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September 13, 2017

Speed Bumps on the Path of Working Together Toward Shared Aspirations

Working together.  Wow. Two words with all kinds of associations.  Working together can be informative, powerful, joyful, inspiring and wildly productive. When it works, everyone involved feels ownership and pride, and real sustainable change can occur.  I know, I know… it sometimes feels like that outcome is the exception rather than the rule because many times, working together can seem cumbersome, impossible, time-consuming, frustrating and an exercise in wheel spinning.

So, how can you stack the deck to have a better chance of a positive outcome when working together?  At The Patterson Foundation, we often talk about the importance of alignment of Leadership, Willingness, Readiness, Capacity, and Culture. If those alignments are in place, working can be a dream. If just one of those elements is out of alignment, the dream quickly becomes a nightmare.

Recently, The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading had the chance to create a presentation which included a section on the importance of alignment of Leadership, Willingness, Readiness, Capacity, and Culture.  As part of the presentation, we showed an example of a lack of alignment by presenting the following parable:

Parable #2 – Arriving with the solution and Gathering Data to the point of inaction

Once upon another time in a land where a high percentage of square pegs could not fit into round holes, a meeting was convened to hear the community’s aspirations on how to address the square peg/round hole dilemma. Invitations were sent to citizens and stakeholders, and hopes were high for a rich and informative discussion.

One of the attendees was a square-peg expert we will call Mr. Agitur. Mr. Agitur had spent a long time pondering the square peg/round hole dilemma, and he was ready to share his knowledge with the attendees. Two representatives from the largest peg-fitting agency were also in attendance, Dr. Caritas and Ms. Propell. Dr. Caritas and Ms. Propell had dedicated much of their working lives to the study of the square peg/round hole dilemma. They were both eager to hear the viewpoints of the community.

The facilitator began the meeting with a warm welcome and a request for people to share the reason they decided to attend the meeting.  What was meant to be an ice-breaking activity soon became an ice building activity. Mr. Agitur was so eager to share his knowledge that he went first. He said, “I decided to attend this meeting because, as a leading square-peg expert, I know exactly what has to happen. We need to reshape the round holes.”  The facilitator thanked him for his contribution and called on the next person to join in on the discussion, to which Mr. Agitur replied, “No discussion is needed. I know what has to be done. I am an expert on this subject! We need to reshape the round holes at a cost of 20,000 dollars per round hole!”

In a last-ditch effort to save the meeting from becoming one man’s platform rather than a discussion, the Facilitator said, “Let’s hear from our other two experts, what are your thoughts?” Dr. Caritas cleared his throat and then jumped right in with the following: “We are in the midst of a multi-year University peer-reviewed study to determine a clear definition of the square peg/round hole dilemma. We hope to have the language in place by 2020.”

Everyone in attendance moaned with dismay, “2020???!.” Ms. Propell sensed the disappointment in the crowd’s reaction, and added, “We are also gathering information about the precise location of the various round holes … we will be mapping those locations, and once we have that we’ll be commissioning a verified count of square pegs.

The assembled crowd was heard muttering, “more of the same” and “this is a complete waste of time!” The Facilitator quickly thanked everyone for coming and pointed out the snack table.  Meeting adjourned.

The parable may be a bit “over-the-top,” but it’s a good reminder of the importance of having alignment. Mr. Agitur lacked in the alignment of Willingness. Although he accepted the invitation to a Community Meeting to hear the opinions of others, he arrived with the answer, making him unable to hear anyone else’s opinion. Readiness seemed to be the issue for Dr. Caritas and Ms. Propell. They were so invested in studying the issue, they were not ready to discuss any kind of a solution.

When we are considering assembling groups of people to possibly work together, remember the LWRCC – Leadership, Willingness, Readiness, Capacity, and Culture.

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