Theory U – Life Skills 2

Click here for Part 1

(Also, if you are interested in Mary’s leadership training, now called The Conscious Feminine Leadership Academy, you can read more here.)

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The more I dug into to the boxed programs, the less certain I became.  I was hesitant to advocate for the adoption of any single program considering the monetary and the energetic investment necessary to make it successful.  Is an extensive program that addresses bullying something our community needs?  How many kids are directly affected?  Best guess — probably more than we know, and without a doubt one is too many.  But what is the best way to address it?

I kept tripping myself up on what our school’s psychologist calls tiers of intervention.  (I hope I don’t have the 1 and the 3 confused, but I know the idea is correct.)  Tier 1 intervention is work you do with the whole group. A good example of is the teaching of a common language.  We make sure everyone understands the true definition of bullying so it’s not thrown around every time something unpleasant happens.  Take the buzz out of the buzzword.  Tier 2 would be more situation-specific intervention with a group.  My son’s brief bystander involvement in fourth grade would fall into that — he was part of a group called in to discuss what was going on.  Tier 3 would be intervention with the individuals at the center of a situation.

I wondered if these community-wide (tier 1) anti-bullying programs were the most effective use of resources.  I found myself less certain that we even needed a bullying committee.  My inner-contrarian kept asking me why I couldn’t find anyone addressing my questions, while the costly “expert” solutions were so ubiquitous 

I am keenly aware how marketing works — keep us in a constant state of dissatisfaction, then sell us what we need to fix our holes.  And these programs can be costly. National guest speakers charge tens of thousands of dollars.  Boxed programs can cost a few thousand dollars, plus additional costs.  Plus the cost to administer.  Plus continuing education.  It’s a big business that needs our unquestioning buy-in to succeed.

This is not to delude myself into thinking there’s no bullying at the school.  There is.  It’s everywhere in our culture because bullies reap great rewards.  I wanted to know the best way to address the problem. It was dawning on me slowly that bullying exists in a cultural context.  Were we trying to cure a disease by treating a symptom?

As I described in the first of my three word posts, I have a tendency to focus on a singular endpoint to the exclusion of everything else.  I’m solution-oriented and default to skipping the how in pursuit of the what.  One of the most enduring lessons of the FLA was how to temper that.  We read Presence, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers, which analyzes U Theory (also called U-procedure and Theory U) as it applies to change leadership.  You can read all about the theory and see some links on the wikipedia page, but I’ll give my distilled version of it here.

There is a situation that needs to be addressed – a change, an improvement, a problem, anything.  You gather a group to study its impact on your institution/corporation/family/social group/paradigm.  Together, with intention, you begin to collect data.  You are going down the left side of the U.  For an unspecified amount of time, you stay at the bottom of the U, sort of in the murk, and you work through and reflect on the information.  Together, again with intention, you stay present to the unfolding complexities until a new understanding begins to evolve.  You come up the other side of the U as an intentional group with an emergent understanding and blueprint for a solution.

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Sounds simple, right?  Simple isn’t always easy.  As leaders, we tend to want to jump in with the answers, lest we be perceived as weak, incompetent, or (gasp) unnecessary.  We want to build a bridge between the tops of the U to avoid the muck below.  I contend that skipping over the uncomfortable bits is not possible if you are looking for sustainable solutions.

On a personal level, the bottom of the U is a difficult place to be.  There is uncertainty and messiness, and the sense of ungrounded unknowing often allows those unresolved issues (AKA shadow) pop up.  The simple become difficult when we don’t trust the process, we when try to force our agenda through rather than allowing solutions to emerge.  Letting go of the idea that you are the indispensable expert feels like giving up power.  In our culture, that feels radical.

There were grumblings.  While we were wading in the bottom of the U in respect to discern the scope of our committee, people wanted to know why nothing was happening.  Why we were being insular.  Why we weren’t receptive to the solutions offered by the larger community.

And here is where Theory U conflicts with our culture’s normal modus operandi.  The bottom of the U is not measurable, but our world wants quantifiable results, even to problems that defy statistical analysis.  Work happening below the surface can look like inaction.  Before long, more action-oriented PTO members asked to joined in, no doubt to save me from my own incompetence.  I think I was earning the reputation for elegant naval-gazing and wheel-spinning.

If you think we were heading to a perfect environment for shadow to take over, you’d be right.    

1 thought on “Theory U – Life Skills 2”

  1. Once a problem is correctly defined (no small feat, it seems, for many people), effective problem solving passes thru two general phases.

    The first phase, diagnosis, involves determining the cause(s) of the problem. For complex probs, the diagnostic journey can be long and difficult. The prize for persistence is that you have the causes of problem in hand.

    Understanding the causes of a problem makes the second phase, remediation, straightforward. Remedies are implemented to either remove the problem’s causes (preferred) or neutralize their effects (sometimes prudent).

    If the problem’s causes have not been accurately diagnosed, then the remedial journey becomes a random walk–implementing solutions to remove causes that may not exist.

    Most problem solving efforts break down during diagnosis. If a team is involved, people often have preconceptions of ‘what is wrong.’ Others are worn down by the slow, disciplined process necessary to correctly identify causes. They become inpatient, and want to jump to remedial action, to ‘do something.’

    Unfortunately, giving in to the temptation to ‘do something’ without firm understanding of what is causing the problem makes things worse instead of better.

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