Working with action methods and sociodrama is actually not too dissimilar from the work of fine artists like Rene Magritte in that we work visually and often will alter perspective through our collective creativity.
The Body as a Metaphor for the Team
For example, last week I was working with a team in the public sector. Using the metaphor of a body, we mapped out roles and responsibilities and very quickly identified that a blockage existed.
It’s relatable as most of us have probably experienced blockages in our own body’s personal plumbing so finding a solution for this blockage might have been easy once its existence was agreed.
But it ended up being the work of the day as the blockage became the thing that very few people were willing to consider and certainly not name. It may be that the feeling of being stuck was accessible to many but the cause of it was as opaque as the table which became a feature of a scene.
At first, I thought the table was just part of the setting of a scene. I was only meeting most of these people for the first time and I did not realise the significance of the table. Until one brave and insightful person pointed out that table was a representation of their difference perspectives and where to place the table in that room had become a bone of contention.
And that bone of contention was around the power of decision-making. Often that happens at tables; it doesn’t often happen about them.
This opened up an underlying issue in the team that would probably not have emerged had we just been talking. The re-creation of the space in which they often met served as the scene for a deep and long-held cultural division in the team.
This division was not of any of their making; it is inherent in the culture of this particular organisation. It’s not a gap that is likely to close given the history and breadth of its presence in the organisation, perhaps even in that more general sector.
However, they all have to navigate it. Regularly. It affects relationships and decision-making every day.
We managed to move it out of the unspeakable to a place where it was seen and heard. It was not resolved and it may never entirely get resolved. The purpose of unearthing it was to bring it to everyone’s awareness in order to begin to soften the blockage for this team.
Stuckness as a part of the work culture
This was a one day gathering and dealing with the stuckness will be the work of that team for a very long time. Without their investment in time, energy and creativity, they would have been negotiating this issue unconsciously resulting in frustration, shortfalls in achievements for the team and, critically, the loss of staff.
In fact, one person was already planning an exit and announced it two days earlier. Directly associated to this issue.
As a consequence of this day, more conversations are taking place. A restucture of how, where and when the team will share the meaning of this new understanding is underway. The intention is to have better communication, a psychologically safer workplace and better results.
- What blockages do you have to avoid or tolerate that will not shift?
- What courageous space can you open so your team can look at it and proactively address it?
- What stops you from having a healthier team?
- Which results does your team strive for and yet not achieve?
- Where is the table or other object or location that might represent a conflict in perspective that is blocking your way as a team and as individuals on it?
And what are you going to do about it?