Leading from the Middle" promotes a democratic, empowered organization, based on my leadership experiences and on research. The best work places empower staff to achieve their full potential; the less command and control, the better the product and service.
Library Journal review: “highly recommended”. Book List: “great reading…”
This blog augments my book with weekly notes. In 2011 I was a Fulbrighter and taught in Latvia, Croatia and Lithuania. In 2013 I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Latvia teaching an 8-week class on the Democratic Workplace.
I'm on the Fulbright Specialist Roster to teach about management and democratic organization concepts.

The Occam’s Razors*

Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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No, not the name of a punk metal group. Rather, the nom de guerre for an organization’s ad hoc group to scrutinize a proposed decision for some major turn in the organization’s life.
As readers of my blog know, I’ve been re-thinking some of the ways to beat bias and to inhibit the all too prevalent groupthink when making decisions.
In my explorations I came across “red team”, a term borrowed from the military. I asked someone who worked in Special Forces for clarification: “The classic examples of red team missions were the penetration / security assessment of sensitive (defensive) sites. Going against secure locations that are staffed by truly unwitting armed guard forces is dangerous, especially since 2001.”
You can well imagine this type of mission was far more perilous than what goes on in corporate conference rooms even when a corporate red team is charged to be “brutally honest, relentlessly detail-oriented”, and to stubbornly refuse to accept anything but a crystal clear explanation. Obviously, there is a high risk that by doing your job on a red team, you could make career-long enemies. My source confirms: “There is always a danger of inciting more territoriality when red teaming if you use only members of one unit / organization. Both sides are given a mission and both want to win, i.e.- platoon against platoon within the same company. If both forces come from within the same organization it creates competition, which can be good or bad. Good in that it creates a result that is used as a metric to gauge the best course of action and stimulates thought/action or bad in that it pits subordinates against each (other) which results in a divide within the group after completion of the exercise.”
Now that is a lengthy quote for this blog, but it is far superior to biz school discussions about why red teams may not be all that popular in the work world. For a red team to be effective, it is quintessential that there be strong leadership and corresponding corporate values to permit red team thinking. Without that leadership and values, a red teamer could be hung out to dry. I ran into opposition and resentment by merely asking questions that made some of my colleagues squirm; just think what I would have come up against if I exhibited a red teamer’s brutal honesty, relentless attention to detail and a stubborn refusal to accept vague answers!
OK. So, when - if ever - to use the concept in the workplace? Based on my long and winding career, I can see how organizations in which I worked could have benefited from using an independent group to review complex decisions. The charge to the group – the Occam’s Razors - would be to frame “a problem from the perspective of an adversary or skeptic, to find gaps in plans, and to avoid blunders.” Here are a few real world episodes:
* When confronted with a choice of accepting or rejecting an inadequate budget for renovating a building. An underfunded renovation - you are convinced - will be inferior to what is needed by you and your customers.
* When pressured for seemingly illogical reasons to change from one system of warehousing to another. Doing so will require relabeling millions of pieces at a cost of millions of dollars, along with a huge inconvenience cost.
* When deciding whether to continue with a cooperative development of an online system or to abandon it for a readily available commercial product. The cooperative developer team is three years late and over budget. Your quitting may jeopardize other successful cooperative efforts.

Of these examples, all but one resulted in a poor and costly decision.
I do think our decision-making would have been greatly facilitated by independent and skeptical scrutiny by a group like my mythical Occam’s Razors. Of course, the group’s doing a good job would require an effective organizational leadership. And, as my Special Forces correspondent concludes: "At the end of the day two things matter - thick skin and candor."

*”Occam’s Razor” is a way of thinking that “the simplest answer is often correct.” Or, “When you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras!”

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE CAT, THE COCK, AND THE YOUNG MOUSE”*

Posted by jlubans on May 21, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Milo Winter (1886-1956)

“A very young Mouse, who had never seen anything of the world, almost came to grief the very first time he ventured out. And this is the story he told his mother about his adventures.
‘I was strolling along very peaceably when, just as I turned the corner into the next yard, I saw two strange creatures. One of them had a very kind and gracious look, but the other was the most fearful monster you can imagine. You should have seen him.’
‘On top of his head and in front of his neck hung pieces of raw red meat. He walked about restlessly, tearing up the ground with his toes, and beating his arms savagely against his sides. The moment he caught sight of me he opened his pointed mouth as if to swallow me, and then he let out a piercing roar that frightened me almost to death.’…
‘If it had not been for that terrible monster,’ the Mouse went on, ‘I should have made the acquaintance of the pretty creature, who looked so good and gentle. He had thick, velvety fur, a meek face, and a look that was very modest, though his eyes were bright and shining. As he looked at me he waved his fine long tail and smiled.’
‘I am sure he was just about to speak to me when the monster I have told you about let out a screaming yell, and I ran for my life.’
‘My son,’ said the Mother Mouse, ‘that gentle creature you saw was none other than the Cat. Under his kindly appearance, he bears a grudge against every one of us. The other was nothing but a bird who wouldn't harm you in the least. As for the Cat, he eats us. So be thankful, my child, that you escaped with your life, and, as long as you live, never judge people by their looks.’

“Do not trust alone to outward appearances.”

The anonymous translator – more likely accumulator since Aesop is easily “borrowed” without attribution – decided on this lengthy rendering, more like a short fairy tale. The precocious mouse’s story advises caution when trusting someone, that all may not be as it seems. One rendering of this fable has Uncle Sam as the Predator Puss and guess who is the Friendly Fowl? Mr. Putin! Now, there’s a reach, at least for me.
So, remember sometimes even the best story can be taken and twisted to fit someone’s unique, even disturbed, perspective. Are we really any less gullible than in the days of this fable?
In the 80s, a young woman’s father defected from the Soviet Union to America. Torn between her family in Latvia and her father in the USA, she nevertheless decided to join him. Surely, she thought, she would be immune to the effect of her exposure to the Soviet’s daily anti-America propaganda. Still, when she got to NYC, she experienced a genuine, however irrational, fear – “a gun pointing at my neck” - that she would be shot on the street.
We should be mindful of the power of stories to shape, even distort, our personal views. Living in Riga, I’ve been told by some to never go to the Central Tirgus, the fabulous market. Why? Because bad people are there. And, I’ve been told with certitude to avoid one trolley bus route because I would be robbed. My real experience contradicts all these warnings. Had I followed this gossip I would be the poorer for it.
Aesop, a critical thinker, was forever peeling away the layers of untruth. He advocated in his own way, thinking that was “clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.” Of course, we – in these enlightened times - are all “critical thinkers” are we not?

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

NOTE: I usually post twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. This Tuesday I was "off the grid." Twice a week posts will resume on May 26.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE FAWN AND HIS MOTHER”*

Posted by jlubans on May 14, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Semantic Sausage

“A Hind said to her Fawn, who was now well grown and strong, ‘My son, Nature has given you a powerful body and a stout pair of horns, and I can't think why you are such a coward as to run away from the hounds.’ Just then they both heard the sound of a pack in full cry, but at a considerable distance. ‘You stay where you are,’ said the Hind; ‘never mind me’: and with that she ran off as fast as her legs could carry her.”

One moralist has it that “No arguments will give courage to the coward.” Now that’s a bit harsh. The deer has the statistical wisdom not to take on a pack of hounds. The odds are stacked. Still, the fable exemplifies the adage: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
We are all prone to sanctimony, stating norms of behavior and then making exceptions for ourselves. So try to avoid absolutes but also avoid weasel talk. When I am obligated to read strategic plans - I normally run screaming the other way - I am struck by the language; the empty clichés, like so many helium hot dogs, pretending a robustness neither meant, understood or intended.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.


© John Lubans 2015

“Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes”*

Posted by jlubans on May 12, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The Hybrid Organization

Deep in the text of a keynote talk, “Do We Need Libraries?” I was surprised by Steve Denning’s ideas on “radical management”. He contends that the new organization model is economy driven; so out with the Traditional Economy and in with the Creative Economy. The former is led and controlled from the top and all that entails, a vertical arrangement. In the Creative Economy, “the management ideology is horizontal. The central goal of the organization is to delight the user or customer. The values are enablement, self-organization and continuous improvement to add value to the user or customer.”
Writing in Forbes magazine, Mr. Denning cuts a much wider swath than those of us under the interminable tail of the blogosphere, so it is nice to see one’s own ideas bolstered, however different Denning’s terms might be from mine. I have been making noises for many years about leading from the middle, the unboss, freedom at work, and the democratic workplace, perhaps most persuasively in "The Dog Under Your Desk" from February of 2014.
Besides nomenclature, Mr. Denning and I differ on the compatibilities between the traditionalist’s vertical ideology and the creative’s horizontal ideology. For Denning, they are as incompatible as a caterpillar in your Caesar salad. “When you try to plug Agile self-organizing teams into a hierarchical bureaucracy, you get continuing friction. It’s not sustainable. Either the horizontal ideology will take over the organization or the vertical ideology will crush the Agile self-organizing teams.”
Call me cautious, but I am less absolute; indeed, while I may agree with his certainty about the superiority of the horizontal ideology, I see the vertical ideology making a transition – over time - from the hierarchy to something more team-based, moving from top down to across the board.
When I helped introduce a horizontal ideology at work (mid 80s to mid 90s) I got to see just how the vertical and horizontal might clash. And, clash they did. Looking back, the verticals might brag about “crushing” the upstart horizontalists; in reality, a hybrid model survived, I am told. Certain horizontal practices continue, like a rear guard, to be practiced in the Restoration. This is not because of nostalgia; hardly, but because the ideas and practices work: they promote creativity and better decision making, get more work done, please more customers and lead to the all important internal motivators of staff recognition and achievement. Even the crustiest traditionalista could not deny these successes so it would be self destructive to return fully to the sclerotic hierarchy – regardless of how much the traditionalist might miss the good old, top down days. And, the staff, having tasted freedom, would dig in its heels much to the chagrin (and embarrassment) of the leaders of the Restoration. I call this a hybrid organization, a melding of teams and the towering pyramid of boxes, capped by THE Boss. However, a successful hybrid requires a different kind of leader, the unboss, who helps the people who work in the organization make the most of their skills and abilities for the good of the concern.
Unless you are a new organization, (Denning cites Apple, Amazon, Zappos and Zara ) you will have little option but to make the transition from the vertical to the horizontal via a hybrid phase. Just like the S-shaped curve of change, knowing when to jump from a downward curve onto an up-curve is a process of a few years length, preparing the organization for the leap onto the new ascending curve. That’s the hybrid phase, the horizontal AND the vertical.

*Jimmy Buffet’s song came to mind as I thought about Denning’s horizontals and verticals and the requisite changes in attitudes for a trad boss’ apotheosis into an unboss.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Pigeon and the Stone Lion

Posted by jlubans on May 07, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption. Photo by John Lubans, May 4, 2015, Vērmanes dārzs, Riga, Latvia.

Long ago, when animals could talk, a pigeon grew accustomed to roosting on the head of a stone lion, something he would never have dared when the lion lived and breathed. The pigeon enjoyed strutting and preening on the lion’s head for all to see, all the while mocking the now powerless “king of beasts”.
Back then, not only could animals talk, but statues had resident spirits. The stone lion had one named Nemesis. Nemesis grew disgusted with the disrespectful ways of the pigeon and appealed to Zeus: “I was strong and honorable in life, why should this bird mock me and defecate on my head?” Zeus agreed and turned the stone lion into warm flesh and fur. The pigeon’s next landing on the lion’s mane was his last; the lion tossed his mighty head and snapped up the pigeon in his jaws.

Moral: Disrespect is no virtue. If you honor and respect something in life, don’t begrime its memory.

In the workplace, I’ve seen pigeon-like besmirching of a former leader’s good work, something that the denigrators would never have done to his face. And, sometimes, a good leader finds herself powerless, trapped between an unsupportive upper administration and a change resistant staff. Then, like the pigeon and the stone lion, the belittlers jeer with impunity. The moral of this story suggests, “Do so at your own risk; divine retribution might be on the horizon!”

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: Howard University Library System, Washington DC

© John Lubans 2015

Yessers, Survivors and Sheep.

Posted by jlubans on May 05, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

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Caption: From Punch magazine, 1895.

Followers, good and bad, feature in my class on Freedom at Work: The Democratic Workplace, which I am currently teaching in Riga.
G. du Maurier’s cartoon, famously known as “The Curate’s Egg”, catches some of the dilemma each of us faces when being a Yes Man (or Woman) – or as Wodehouse has it, a “Yesser”. There’s also a bit of the compliant Sheep in the young curate and most of all, the Survivor.
How times have changed, or have they?
The winner of a recent caption contest for this cartoon, has the milquetoast slanging the Bish, “You’re bloody right, this effin’ egg is off!” While refreshing for its candor the curate’s response – given the power imbalance between the two – would hardly help advance the curate’s career. But, then stranger things have happened. Perhaps the Bishop will slap his knee, and say something like: “You s.o.b! I sure do like a man who speaks his mind! You can do my sermon this Sunday!”
In Wodehouse’s literary world, the curate was a poor assistant to a vicar, striving to get to the next level, a vicarage of his own. Usually, that meant a guaranteed salary – a sinecure for life, and enough money on which to marry. It was all up to the bishop. So, there was more than a little motivation to not ruffle the bishop, at least not until you got booted upstairs.
When my class looks in on the various taxonomies of leaders and followers, I want them to consider the reasons behind being a star follower or a loveable fool or a Yesser. How does one’s apparent role choice happen? Are we born that way – sheep like, cooperative and dependent thinking – or do corporate and personal factors influence us? I ask them about the risks of speaking up, of speaking the truth, of being an active, independent thinker.
Why can’t we all be candid – in a nice way of course – about problems at work? What gets in the way? One answer all too frequently is the demeanor of the leader. If you speak honestly about a problem, does that leader support you? Really support you?
Does the leader squirm, visibly or not, when opposing perspectives clash? What happens over time to someone that takes an alternative view to the boss’s proposal? How does the boss treat her after the discussion? Is she marginalized or do her views influence the final decision?
By the end of our classroom discussion, there’s a good understanding of the leader’s essential role in creating a climate for open and frank debate. And, the students understand, I hope, why that is important. An unquestioned leader will likely make a poorer decision than that made by a leader willing to engage in energetic and urgent debate, demanding of alternative views, and respectful of opposing viewpoints. (That's my unboss.)
I ask each of the students to consider, in private, where they would land on these follower charts. That’s to ensure that our in-class discussion is not just an academic exercise. Most of the students in this current class are already employed, so they can apply these theories immediately not just to themselves, but also to where they are working.
At the minimum, I want them to have the vocabulary to understand what is happening to them in the organization. And, ultimately, I’d like for them to understand that there is no reason to be stuck in a particular role. If there’s an opportunity to be independent and active, then do it. The risk is there but so are the personal rewards.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “A Wolf and a Porcupine.”*

Posted by jlubans on April 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Engraving by Samuel Howitt (1756-1822)

“Your Porcupine and your Hedge-Hog, are somewhat alike, only the Former has longer and sharper Prickles than the Other; and these Prickles he can shoot and dart at an Enemy. There was a Wolf had a mind to be dealing with him, if he could but get him disarm'd first; and so he told the Porcupine in a friendly way, that it did not look well for People in a Time of Peace, to go Arm'd, as if they were in a State of War; and so advis'd him to lay his Bristles aside; for (says he) you may take them up at pleasure. Do you talk of a State of War? says the Porcupine, why, that's my present Case, and the very Reason of my standing to my Arms, so long as a Wolf is in Company.”

“No Man, or State can be safe in Peace, that is no always in readiness to encounter an Enemy in Case of War.”

And what of this fable is irrelevant today? Well, there’s the now disproved claim - made by Aristotle no less - that the porcupine can “shoot” his quills. Otherwise, all relevant. I could comment about the motives of a neighboring nation to where I am living in northern Europe, but I won’t (clever?).
What about the workplace? Well there were times when turf wars would erupt inside and outside the research library in which I worked. One notable example (replayed at many campuses) was the university’s IT (Information Technology) department’s wanting to enlarge its domain; the aggressive and self-aggrandizing IT director salivated over the library’s resources budget. So, while the IT folks might call us paranoid, (Was it Heller who said, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they’re not out to get you”?) the library’s leader was forewarned and forearmed and stymied the takeover; indeed, he turned the tables and co-opted IT! On some campuses, the library was annexed, unhappily, to IT; but, like our Porcupine, proved to have “prickles” longer and sharper than first anticipated, much to IT’s dismay and chagrin. Many of those shotgun weddings were short-lived because the two cultures were like night and day.

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: University of the Fraser Valley, UVF Library, Abbotsford BC., Canada
If your library lacks a copy, copies are available from ABC-Clio, the publisher.

Telling-off the Jerk Boss: Bad Idea?

Posted by jlubans on April 27, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

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Caption: Walking out.

There’s plenty of advice out there on what to do when working for a jerk. The conventional wisdom goes something like this:
Make sure you are not the jerk.
Cut the boss some slack – she’s only human.
Coach up.
Focus on the positive parts of the job
Wait him out.
Quit.

But, nary a word about fighting back, except as something to avoid, a workplace taboo.
So, I took notice when a recent report suggested that yelling back might be a more effective strategy than previously thought. Researchers at Ohio State “… found a surprising result: although a person is more likely to feel like a victim when their boss is hostile toward them, they are much less likely to feel like a victim when they reciprocate their boss’s hostility.”
Imagine that, the worm turns and feels less of a worm, maybe even puts one over on the bad boss?
That took me back to a leadership study I did at a retail business. Family run, it’s been successful for many years. That success has come in spite of some capriciousness, including abusive behavior, on the part of the owner/boss.
One of the managers, Scott, told me that the boss – usually polite - could be more than a little prickly and unpredictable. But, when he did blow up, Scott would tell him to back off and let him do his job. If the boss persisted, Scott would walk out, saying over his shoulder, “I quit,” and the boss shouting, “You’re fired!” He told me he’d been fired more times than he could count. Invariably, within a day or two, the boss would call him, apologize, and ask him to come back.
So, is there something to be said for fighting fire with fire? The conventional wisdom is to avoid, accommodate and not respond; think happy thoughts as the boss rips you up and down. Protect your job, survive! Is that really best?
The Ohio State researchers are reluctant to deduce that yelling back is the best way. Instead they state the obvious: “… one of the best, most reliable consequences of downward hostility is upward hostility of various sorts, passive-aggressive kinds of responses and also active-aggressive kinds of responses, actually yelling back at the boss.”
In other words, if you are a jerk boss, you can expect blowback, both passive and overt. Your rudeness and yelling may result in employee anger and its outcomes will be low morale and passive-aggressive behavior, all at huge costs to the workplace.
In spite of the research findings, the researchers caution against channeling the vitriolic Jon Taffer instead of surviving as Caspar Milquetoast. And, obviously, it’s best not to have a jerk boss! Small consolation for the worker licking her wounds from the boss’ last spiteful eruption!
My impression is that the researchers are either not fully confident in their “roar back” finding or do not see the relationship between the jerk boss and bullying in general. Bullying (demeaning and name calling) needs to be confronted if it is to be stopped.
Once called - shamed, if you will - the bully backs off. Without a victim the bully loses his/her motivation; it’s no longer fun when victims turn the tables. Concurrently, the turmoil caused by these “roaring mice” may result in an organization’s soul-searching and understanding that there are substantial associated costs when abusive bosses are not checked. The research “found no upside whatsoever to a boss being hostile, even though there is a lay belief out there that if you kind of kick people a little bit, maybe you can get them motivated.”
In Scott’s case, the boss had the good sense to realize firing a valued employee was patently self-destructive. He was motivated to back off, at least until the next flare up.
What do I think? This research, as well as other studies, confirms that bad behavior is most manageable when the behavior is called. Do it as politely as you can even if you have to raise your voice a decibel or two. Be prepared to stand your ground. Will you lose your job? There’s risk, but this study suggests the consequences may not be as dire as conventional wisdom would have it. And you might gain some self-respect.

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Caption: I'm not taking this anymore!

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Crow and the Pitcher”*

Posted by jlubans on April 23, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Mr. Corvix knows water displacement theory.

“A CROW perishing with thirst saw a pitcher, and hoping to find water, flew to it with delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach and thus saved his life.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

On the job, when we had a problem to solve and the only apparent option was to spend more to do the same thing, I would ask a few questions: What would happen if we stopped doing this? What could we do instead? How does this add value for our clients? And, finally, What do you (the people with the problem) recommend we do?
No, I was not being the bully-boss putting out inane questions. My questions were meant to trigger a creative response – to create urgency, a necessity, like Aesop’s crow encountered, to get us out of the rut of incremental thinking. The crow’s ingenuity, pushed by necessity, saves his life. It was my intent to prompt insightful thinking, to consider alternatives and options, like what can we substitute, combine, modify, or, yes, eliminate? I know some staff were figuratively shaking their heads and thinking: “There simply are no other ways to do this. If only you knew why we do what we do, then you would not ask these silly questions!” Unlike the crow, they’d willingly go thirsty.
Creative and resourceful staff, when given the opportunity to pause and reflect, often will find a way. And, overtime, the best staff won’t need any prompting; they’ll let you know what they’ve come up with and implemented! Yes, with freedom at work comes a mutual responsibility: for the boss to let go and for those doing the work to make decisions about how to do that work.

*Source: FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop’s fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886. Available at the Gutenberg Project.

© John Lubans 2015

A “whopping effect”: How “Knowing” Improves Teamwork.

Posted by jlubans on April 20, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

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The notion of “common knowledge” is featured in the March issue of the “Harvard Gazette”. The article confirms how levels of common knowledge can affect working relationships and productivity. I was drawn to this report because I teach about teamwork (cooperation among humans), conflict and collaboration.
The study (co-authored by graduate student Kyle Thomas and Prof. Steven Pinker) tests “four levels of knowledge for how participants could earn more by working together:
In the private knowledge condition, a participant (either a “butcher” or a “baker”) was told he or she could earn 10 cents more for working with the partner but was not given information about what the partner knew.” The second and third knowledge conditions improved on the participants’ shared knowledge. In the fourth level, the common knowledge condition, the improved payoff was presented as public information - indeed broadcast over loud speakers - readily comprehended by every participant.
“Each was offered a choice: Try to work together for mutual benefit … or work on their own for a lesser, but certain profit.”
So what happened? “’What we found was that, for private knowledge, even if we varied the payouts, or the number of people involved, only about 15 percent of people cooperated,’ Thomas said. ‘With shared knowledge, we saw about 50 percent, and with common knowledge, it was 85 percent. It was just a whopping effect.’”
So, what does this study of would-be butchers and bakers have to do with the workplace? What’s the take away?
Well, some of the theory I stress in class involves best practices in setting up a team to work on a problem. Also, I talk about conflict resolution and how the several ways of managing conflict are bounded by knowledge conditions. For example, collaborating as a way to resolve conflict requires high assertiveness and cooperativeness, both sides sharing knowledge and understanding – nothing relevant is hidden. Conflict avoidance – a very popular strategy in cultures the world over - features low assertiveness and low cooperation. (And, little shared knowledge; after all, you are avoiding each other!)
Tuckman’s stages of group development (form, storm, norm, perform and adjourn) are bounded by high or low trust and knowledge, shared or not. The higher the trust and greater the shared knowledge (nothing held back) the greater - Tuckman would have it - the opportunity for a group to be highly effective at doing its job. Similarly, low trust and low knowledge will result in a pseudo-team, not an effective team.
Of course, unlike antiseptic laboratory conditions, the workplace may not be the safest place in which to reveal one’s motives, to bare one’s soul, so to speak. We are conditioned somewhat at work, home and in school to hold back, to repress, inhibit our natural inclination to work with and help each other. I may skirt someone sleeping in a doorway but I will help – without being asked - a young parent haul her child and stroller down a flight of subway stairs. I might ignore a panhandler openly soliciting for “beer money”, but I will give money to a stranger who tells me at a highway rest stop that he is on “empty”. In the workplace, I will compete with work colleagues, seeking a personal win in order to gain status and compensation. My preference may be for cooperation but the organization makes it near impossible, maybe even dangerous to “broadcast over loud speakers” one’s common knowledge. Instead, our best inclinations – indeed our natural human impulses - are blunted and uncooperative behavior is rewarded. If the organization really does not support openness and trust, then the “whopping effect” in the laboratory cannot survive in the scrum of the workplace. This research does confirm for me that an open and trusting workplace, free and democratic, is central to group achievement and productivity.
Alas, we seem inured to the way it is and continue the hierarchic traditions rather than try out other structures, even a compromise like a hybrid organization.

© John Lubans 2015