Thursday, August 23, 2012

Team Dynamics: Advocating a Goal not a Solution

[UPDATE: This post has stimulated an engaging conversation on the discussion boards at Freedomain Radio.] 

In a recent meeting at work, I participated in a butting of heads over whether solution A or solution B was more prudent to solve a design concern on my current project at work.  What I only realized after the fact is that we had no conversation at all to define our goal. It was as if we were debating the ingredients of a recipe without any discussion as to what we were trying to make.

I find that this non-verbalization of goals is very prevalent across all aspects of my life with all types of people and all levels of interaction.  I find myself and others, leaving our goals in-explicit with each person assuming the goals are clear.  Tensions then rise as each person advocates for their solution for reaching their goal, never noticing that the opposite person does not share the same goal.

I recently heard a metaphor presented by Stefan Molyneux which demonstrates this focus on debating solutions versus, sharing goals:

Two people sharing a space are debating weather a window should be open or closed.  Each is vigorously advocating their position trying to prove that their answer is "right." Neither is sharing their why.  Why should the window be in that position?  It turns out one person wants it open for a cooling breeze while the other wants it closed to keep out exterior noise.

Once these goals are made clear to both parties, it is very easy for both to come up with a win-win answer which can satisfy both of their goals.  But as long as the goals are unstated, they are stuck in a circular argument destined to have one of them unsatisfied.

In the case of my meeting today, the two of us had very different assumptions and goals for the same topic.  I was searching for a simple answer which would end up relying on trust in the competence of a third party.  My associate was looking for a more engineered solution to avoid having to put any trust in that third party.

The fascinating discussion which was being avoided was: why should we or shouldn't we have trust in the third party?  If we had come to an agreement on these assumptions and goals first, we would have agreed to a solution in a matter of minutes.

When you are participating in a conflict of minds, no mater if big or small, do you find yourself thinking, "If only they could understand that I am right?"  The shocking answer is that you may both be right, but you are probably responding to completely different questions.  This realization that the other person with which you are conflicting is more than likely just as deep, thoughtful, and capable as you, is not something we are often presented.

For a deeper understanding of seeing the "other" in the people around you, read this blog post on empathy: Empathy - Curiosity and Intrigue

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