Team Elements: Truth Depends on Beliefs

by Ron

We’ve been introducing and preparing ourselves to walk through the elements that make great teams. The first of these is Truth. Great teams can tell each other the truth. But Truth needs some special understanding.

To create a truthful and dynamic atmosphere, teams must:

  • Develop and maintain Trust
  • Be able to share their Beliefs and Assumptions openly and without recrimination
  • Believe that every member of the team has a Valid Perception of the issue.

In the last post, we talked about building the trust required to share the truth. In this post, we’ll talk about how our beliefs and assumptions shape our truth.

Beliefs and Assumptions

Years ago, Peter Senge wrote a book titled The Fifth Discipline that was a deep book but had a profound effect on the corporate world. This book about systems thinking was based on work by Gregory Bateson and extended by Chris Argyris and Peter Senge. It known as Systems Thinking or Learning Organizations. I had never seen a concept penetrate the halls of corporations as much as these ideas.

It seemed that I couldn’t walk into any of my client companies without them wanting to show me how they were adapting system thinking or becoming a learning organization or both. It was an amazing tidal wave.

But much of this impact was related with the second loop of what Senge and company referred to as triple loop learning. In brief, let me describe the three loops.

The first loop says that you do some work, you observe the results. If you’re not satisfied, you put in a fix, and you do the work again. I’ve seen this first loop referred to as “Following the Rules” or “Are we doing the right thing.” I started to think of it as a “do loop” from my early computer days. We would talk about a computer program that was hung up as being in a “do loop.” That meant the program was running in circles and couldn’t get out. The first loop of triple loop learning is much like that do loop. Do some work, check the results, put in a fix, do some work, check the results, put in a fix, etc.

Senge and team began to talk about the second loop as a longer, more sustainable loop. In this loop that wanted you to think about an issue as not needing a fix but as part of an entire system. Check your policies, procedures, systems, and processes to see what is directing the work. If you put the proper system in place that guides the work you’ll get better, more sustainable results. But it required system redesigns and re-engineering. These are the words that my clients were using. They wanted to show me their re-engineering work and their systems redesign and the improved results. And indeed, they were getting improved results. But maybe not the best results possible. The third loop of triple-loop learning was required. Unfortunately, I didn’t see many of my clients looking at the third loop. Why?

The third loop examines the team’s Beliefs and Assumptions about an issue before the redesign or re-engineering takes place. If your personal beliefs don’t agree with the redesigned system, beliefs will override or ignore the system. If the system was redesigned based on an issue or observation that doesn’t match your assumptions, there is no true belief that the new system will produce the desired results. Beliefs and Assumptions rule the day!

Senge and company believed that by fully sharing and understanding Beliefs and Assumptions you would improve the quality of thinking and interactions and in doing so would experience more sustainable improvements. They also believed this would not be a one-time fix but would result in continued improvement of thinking, interactions, and results. Now you would become a Learning Organization.

Working Out Beliefs

Sharing of Beliefs and Assumptions is the second part of building a high-quality team that provides the highest level of happiness for the team members. But, this is a muscle or discipline that develops through training just like going to the gym to improve any part of your body.

I’m assuming here that you’ve successfully created an atmosphere of trust that will allow for the sharing of Beliefs and Assumptions. But, the first time you engage a new muscle group the results are painful. And the rest of the body must adapt to the higher performing muscle group before all of the pain and awkwardness ceases.

The first time teams practice sharing Beliefs and Assumptions there is hesitancy, holding back, embarrassing moments and even shock and disbelief from others on the team as you get used to sharing at this deep level. But even with this first awkward attempt, teams find that the solution they reach as a team is often better than most past experiences. And, as teams get better at this level of sharing at the beginning of problem-solving, it becomes almost addictive. If you’ve become comfortable with starting the process by sharing Beliefs and Assumptions, and then you walk into a team that has not developed this same muscle, you can hardly stand to face the amateur approach to problem-solving. That becomes painful.

Develop the Beliefs and Assumptions muscle. You’ll become a much more Truthful team, and you’ll become a powerful problem-solving team. And that will make you happy.

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