Monday, 25 January 2016


I watched two garden spiders yesterday, connected by the same web, work their magic. I sat there in amazement as they worked to restore and expand their web, eat or store a few insects along the way that had given the signal of their arrival.   You have no doubt seen a spider scamper across a few strands in order to wrap up this unsuspecting invader for a later meal.

These two spiders appeared to be of the same variety, small, yellow spots, long nimble legs, the larger one about 25 millimeters including large, jointed legs and the tiny one less than half that size.  At first I wondered if these two were from the same family, cooperating and collaborating, or if they were competitors, the larger ready to consume the smaller at any moment.  Or might it become a David and Goliath scenario?

You have probably heard that spiders eat their young and actually it turns out that a mother spider will often feed herself to her young in order for them to grow.  Talk about the ultimate sacrifice.  There is also a tremendous amount of research about spider webs as they are extremely strong and resilient.  Materials scientists have taken numerous lessons from what a spider web is and how it functions.

As the wind blew and the web seemed to stretch about 30 centimeters and spring back to its original form, I kept watching intently at both the web and the two spiders.  They would work very fast and precisely for a short time and then go back to a spot and wait, I thought possibly resting from their intense work.  Or maybe they were making more silk.  There are people who spend their lives studying these things.  I am just a casual observer.

While watching all of this activity, I kept thinking about how those of us who have worked with organizations could have a field day with this exercise.   Take your team to the garden, find a spider web, look carefully and quietly for at least half an hour to an hour and see what you might learn from the experience.  Let your minds wander, take notes, and then gather and share your observations and reactions.  And while you’re at it, you might check out some of the research.

By the way, I just went outside to check on my two spiders and sure enough, they are there, ready for this new day and so am I.   I think they might also have been working all night although they do have circadian rhythms that vary by species.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


When these conditions are present to any significant degree, you and your team will definitely be blocked from being effective and productive.   These three obstacles are closely related through a common factor that, if dealt with separately, could resolve all three.  That common factor is FEAR.  Patrick Lencioni and Kensuke Okabayashi only use the word fear in the 2nd level of their pyramid model in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: An Illustrated Leadership Fable. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons (Asia), 2008.  In reality, all five dysfunctions have a fear factor.
Let’s analyze fear as the paralyzing force that prevents the leader from taking action and the behavior that keeps team members from being engaged fully.  The first one is taken directly from Lencioni and Okabayashi’s work.

1.  FEAR OF CONFLICT   There are numerous reasons why people do not want to engage in disagreement and in some cases feel like they cannot possibly do so without feeling even worse.  While this condition will keep an individual or a team from making any significant progress, the first thing to understand is that there is seldom any productive outcome without some debate, disagreement and open, honest discussion or better yet, dialogue.
David Bohm in his book, On Dialogue (1996) puts it this way.  He says that “Dialogue,” comes from the greek ‘dialogos.  Logos means ‘the word’ or in this case, ‘the meaning of the word,’ and ‘dia’ means ‘through’ – it doesn’t mean ‘two.’ He goes on: “A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue with himself.” Bohm says dialogue “will make possible a flow of meaning…out of which may emerge some new understanding…which may not have been in the starting point at all.”
“Discussion,” Bohm says, “has the same root as ‘percussion’ and ‘concussion’ and really means to break things up.” Discussion, therefore, is a process of analyzing and breaking up and “will not get us far beyond our various points of view.” Rather, “the object of the game is to win or gain points for yourself.”   Dialogue helps everyone to win.

This is related to the fear of conflict since that is what is “assumed” will happen if you confront another person with a legitimate question and genuine concern about that person’s (or group) behavior that appears to be contributing to the lack of progress.  It could be anything from inactive participation to outright negative comments that derail and deter forward movement.  That often comes from those opposed to change and who are wed to the status quo.  Understanding their motivation and what lies behind their behavior could be helpful.
A team leader needs the courage that will overcome the fear of wading into the water without feeling like he or she will be swamped with an incoming tide of disapproval and criticism.   Harry Truman is credited with the quote, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”  The implication is clear.  If you don’t deal well with criticism and disapproval and you do not have the confidence and self-esteem to hold your ground and take a stand, then you may not be the best person to lead the team.
It is also possible that others on the team can be allies in helping to hold fellow team members accountable so that the entire burden does not fall on just the leader.  And, if holding others accountable is not seen as a burden but as an opportunity to solve a problem, early intervention is a good strategy.

It is easy to say, “Just get over it,” because at some point, every person and every team fails and it does not destroy the person nor the team.  The truth is that without a few failures, you might not know what doesn’t work and be very surprised when something does not meet your standard or your expectation.  As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
A recent USC study shows failure is a rewarding experience when the brain has a chance to assess its options and mistakes.  In another study, Francesca Gino, Bradley Staats and Chris Myers examine individuals’ differing reactions to failure, finding that when individuals accept and internalize a failure, they learn and improve their performance significantly more than those who externalize or blame their failure on outside forces.  (Think sports’ teams!)

So for those that seek to promote a thriving, positive workplace, it’s critical to mind the environment to make sure that it is providing a developmental space for people to respond resiliently to failures, setbacks and other adversities (both big and small). Research by Gretchen Spreitzer at the University of Michigan reminds us that a key component of individuals’ thriving at work is related to the opportunity for ongoing learning and improvement embedded in their work environment.
If you can look at failure as an opportunity to learn, not as something to be avoided, that shift alone can help greatly to remove the fear.

CONCLUSION:  Fear is an obstacle and paralyzes people, at least most of the time.  On the other hand, there can be a positive aspect of fear such as the fear of an oncoming car in the wrong lane that precipitates a positive response and avoiding a collision.
“The land of excellence is safely guarded from unworthy intruders.  At the gates stand two fearsome sentries – risk and learning.  The keys to entry are faith and courage.”  Robert Quinn in Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within.  (1996)