Welcome to Partnerwerks Collaboratory, March 20, 2000



Last week we wrote of our client who asks his reports to bring him only "right" choices when escalating their decisions to him. What we like most about this philosophy is how it assumes more than one "right" solution. And, we promised that we would share how Partnerwerks' associates treat the notions of "right" and "wrong." In our attempts to achieve immediate acknowledgment among team members for the unique perspective that each member brings, Partnerwerks associates always request that a group remove the words "right" and "wrong" from their shared team vocabulary. We ask them instead to simply substitute the words "works" and "doesn't work." We've written previously about how this simple agreement helps each member recognize that their "wrongs" and "rights" are not moral absolutes, but instead represent individual points of view (Collaboratory, 2/8/99, Team Power's Theory of Relativity). Here are four more distinctions we've gained since removing "right" and "wrong" from our vocabularies.

1. We open to more possibilities.
Increasingly, we've become aware that right versus wrong infers only two potential conditions -- a scarcity mentality -- however the language of "works" and "doesn't work" provides for abundant potential conditions.

2. Our attention is on the present.
The language of right and wrong infers permanence about a choice or condition (e.g., "The customer's ALWAYS ______!"), but we live in an ever-changing world. "Works" and "doesn't work" acknowledge the immediate currency of a choice or condition.

3. Keeps us learning and unlearning.
"Right" and "wrong" make us overly certain of things, while "works" and "doesn't work" keeps us noticing what really is. Think about this: denial is what happens when certainty meets data to the contrary!. Remember in the movie _Men in Black_ the speech that Tommy Lee Jones' character "K" makes to Will Smith's character James Edwards (aka, "J") right after showing him the jolly alien life forms in the coffee room? "Yup, people think they have a pretty good bead on things" said K, "Fifteen hundred years ago everybody was CERTAIN that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everyone was SURE the earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago you KNEW people were alone on this planet! Just think what you'll KNOW tomorrow!"

4. Connects us in relationship instead of assigning disconnected states of being.
Authoritative use of "right" and "wrong" can numb us into operating as disconnected automatons. Think about it. "That's right" can be falsely affirming and "that's wrong" can be falsely degrading. I have found myself so sensitive to this that when my young son points and says "That dog's brown," instead of responding "that's right," I affirm him by saying "I agree Thom, that dog appears brown to me too!" I don't know about you, but I prefer the connection that comes with that. It works for me!

Partnerwerks Collaboratory, March 13, 2000



A client recently told me, "To people who bring me decisions they don't feel comfortable or empowered to make, I say 'only bring me "right" decisions. I only want to choose between right and right.'" I liked that a lot and wanted to hear him out. This client went on to explain that since he assumes he is choosing between "rights," he will even ask the approaching employee to establish the criteria he should use in making the decision. He says that at his level, all important decisions brought to him will involve tradeoffs including:

- Justice versus mercy,
- Long term versus short term,
- Truth versus loyalty, and,
- Individual versus group.

That's deep and perceptive stuff. It shows a great deal of Team Wisdom(TM). Here's how. First, he signals that he expects people in his group to make intentional decisions in the best interest of the group and company. Second, members of his group shouldn't expect him to do their decision-making work for them. If they bring him a decision to make, he expects it to be a decision appropriate for his role, and, he expects his group to brief him on their homework. Third, he expects employees to eliminate "wrong" choices­­choices that don't fit the company's value system. He expects an employee to do the work to validate all escalated choices as reasonable (not to mention legal, ethical and moral I suppose) and would be disappointed with a report who was afraid or unwilling to eliminate "wrong" choices because they were otherwise desirable in some way.

What a refreshing and empowering perspective. The ultimate Team Wisdom(TM) in this philosophy is that this client places considerable responsibility on himself to clearly communicate his -- and the organization's --value system so that people can turn those values into decision tools and clearly separate "wrong" from "right" choices.

Next week we'll describe how Partnerwerks associates treat judgments of "right" and "wrong."

Partnerwerks Collaboratory, 2/8/99


Collaboratory's Theory of Relativity*

Some people exhibit such a need to be right that they can't stand evidence to the contrary. These are the folks who work overtime to prove others wrong and disparage anyone who espouses a different point of view. This type of communication stance makes team communication difficult because it sends most discussions rapidly into debating right versus wrong. (Do you realize the word "discussion" has the same root as "percussion" and "concussion?" Bang! Bang!)

People with Collaboratory, however, listen completely and respectfully to speakers representing different views. Why? Because they know that "right" and "wrong" is always relative. They don't fear different points of view: they know different points of view offer new opportunities to build and expand, rather than to threaten each other with extinction.

Consider this. What's right in your ______________________ (fill in the blank: family, department, culture, classroom, book, market, organization, religion, nation, etc.) may well be wrong in another's. Judgements of right and wrong ALWAYS emanate from a particular POINT OF VIEW which is based on values, beliefs and attitudes, which are always relative.

Take for example a relationship between marketing and design (as bodies of knowledge, or as divisions in a company, take your pick). Marketing and design come from and operate within very different points of view which, sometimes, have great difficulty working together. But marketing would have nothing to sell without design and design would have no niche for their product without marketing. In fact, each is only part of the bigger picture -- ADD VALUE -- and requires the other part for completion.

To adopt the Collaboratory theory of relativity, consider all of your knowledge, ideas and opinions as functions of your unique perspective or point of view. Consider each other person's knowledge, ideas and opinions as functions of their points of view. All are VALID and TRUE. Some are more applicable than others in certain circumstances. But all are equally valid and true in their own realms. The fun part of life and of practicing Collaboratory is taking every opportunity you can to integrate your point of view with as many others as you can. To do this, though, you have to be willing to hear -- and validate -- all other points of view. And, not just when you agree with them. All the time.

*Thanks and apologies to Albert Einstein