I’m in yet another conference where there is a lot of anxiety about how we spend the time together. One participant consistently challenges the facilitator about the way they are organising the discussion. He is concerned that if we don’t stay together as a big group then ‘things will get lost’. We have got to stay to gether to ‘capture’ what is going on. I wonder if one of the things that he means is that if we don’t sit still in one place then he will get lost. In one way he is right: it is discomfiting when things won’t stay still, they won’t stay captured.
Of course there are many things tied up in his challenge. Who has the right to decide what is important to discuss? How do I influence how things get done? Am I being listened to? Why do this rather than that? The challenge requires a response that recognises the challenger, whether or not we agree with the substance of the challenge.
Sometimes anxiety and idealisation arise together. So at the same time that people are expressing anxiety about things slipping away, being forgotten, not being pinned down, they may have an idea that there is a perfect way of doing things. If only we could run this workshop as it should be run, if only we could learn the lessons, if only we could communicate effectively, then none of these inconsistencies and disruptions would happen.
Strategy, which is partly why we have come together, is also something ideal, something big and important that is other than what we are doing together here and now, which is messy and imperfect. If we could only be clear then it would be obvious what to do. We would have a clear document, an outcome, which would inform us what we should be doing. When we are lost, uncertain, then the strategy document will give us guidance. If we go on like this will we get an outcome which will help us know what to do? Professional people are never confused, but are clear about what needs to be done next.
In this particular instance the facilitator, whilst acknowledging the substance of the challenge, asked his challenger to trust him, which I found an interesting appeal. So do we trust each other enough despite the uncertainties and complications of what we are dealing with, to take the next step together? And in taking that next step, would we then trust a bit more to take the next one? Does this then lead to new ways of working where we are more ready to accept ambiguity, and yet still try to act together in concert?
As Doug Griffin has argued in his book, leadership emerges in the interactions between engaged people. We experience the trust that the facilitator appealed to in situations where we begin to make sense together, despite the anxieties and uncertainties that we bring to the situation. In such situations the possibility of novelty also emerges.