A Team Based - Project Based - Hands On Learning Approach to Solving Complex Problems
Attracting and retaining talent and cultivating a strong culture are three of leaders’ most important issues. The Big Quit, the quiet resignation and employee refusals to return to the office have thrown years and decades of organizational work out the door.
The trauma and disruption of the pandemic and the failure of leaders to know how to respond with care broke a fundamental trust, and compact employees felt with their organizations.
Leaders are using a variety of solutions like virus-killing cleaning protocols, perks, mental health PTOs, redesigned workspaces, and internal promotions without effect. This range of responses highlights the lack of understanding and appreciation for employees’ underlying concerns.
The refusals and resistance are symptoms of a different kind of problem. Marty Heifetz and Tod Bolsinger identify these as adaptive issues. In other words, the past does not inform the present. Organizations must adapt or die when a problem does not yield to a variety of interventions or gets worse.
Adaptive thinking goes against our survival instincts to act quickly and decisively. Adaptive thinking requires letting go of references to past problems and remedies. It requires acknowledging this is an unknown-unknown condition. In other words, it requires a fundamental mind shift.
Leaders who do not recognize the nature of an adaptive problem or lack the skills or mindset to lead without answers fall into three traps.
MindShift takes adaptive leadership theory into a process and set of tools. It is a 21st Century Barn Raising approach to complex problems. It is a process that does not depend on a single leader or a team of experts.
Mindshift is a hands-on, team-based, project-based approach used in elementary schools and adapted for big problems big kids face.
Most change efforts do not account for the systemic and relational nature of the problems. These complex problems have earned their own category, a “wicked problem.”
"The term ‘wicked’ is used, not in the sense of evil, but rather its resistance to resolution. Moreover, because of complex interdependences, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems." - Wikipedia.
Change initiatives fail, or companies hit a wall because they approach wicked problems with traditional mindsets. One primary cause of failure is the inability to shift the focus from the problem at hand to the system's dysfunctions.
MindShift addresses the critical reasons for failure by creating a diverse cross-functional team of leaders outside their parent companies in an alliance for change. The external structure creates a protected enclave of exploration and experimentation. The coalition of diverse leaders generates the critical mass necessary to shift the larger system that resists any one or few organization's attempts at fundamental changes.
MindShift evolved into a platform for innovation, change, or accelerated improvements and is flexible to address any scale of resistance, small or large.
Imagine a combination of a modern-day barn-raising with a high-powered "do-tank" mindset. We have used this model to help companies reinvent themselves, drive industry change or accelerate business development.
I called my friend Dean in late 2006 to catch up and see how he was doing. He leads an important studio within the largest global architectural firm.
“Rex, The fun is gone. I’m spending more time putting out fires and defending claims. Projects become more about mitigating risk than doing great work.”
These headwinds lower margins and force his firm and others to use less experienced architects and spend more time finding creative ways to reduce costs. Dean feels trapped in a vicious circle.
I posed an experiment. Let’s gather the significant stakeholders and spend two days together. Dean agreed, along with two other firms. The next step was to find other willing leaders.
I traveled to meet potential participants. I heard common themes.
No one enjoys the process; there are too many incentives to game the system, too few projects meet the original expectations, and everyone wants to change it, but all feel stuck.
Each person also had a different theory about why the industry couldn’t seem to change. Ultimately, their only option was to make the best of a bad system.
One leader who joined commented after ninety minutes of unloading his frustrations, “If this will help me deliver a courthouse in less than seven years, I’m in!”
The first MindShift summit met in a conference room at Dean’s offices in the Spring of 2006. The attendees included the Chief Architect for GSA, a representative from the AIA, a senior executive for the largest U.S. general contractor, two developers, the president of one of the largest office furniture manufacturers, a specialty engineer, a structural engineer, two representatives from Dean’s office and a graphic facilitator.
There was one common theme; each person felt their world would operate more smoothly if others would do their job or “play fairly.” This underlying tension surfaced during the first group discussion.
I posed an opening question. “What does the problem look like from your seat on the bus?”
Bill, the contractor, opened by throwing down his challenge, “If only the architect provided accurate drawings, WE wouldn’t have these problems!”
Dean said, “If the contractor knew how to read blueprints and understood design intent, there would be no problems.”
Those exchanges opened the floodgates. The finger-pointing, accusations, and examples continued for the next two hours. I was concerned that the heated debate might override our reason for coming together. And just as quickly as things heated up, it broke through to a new level of dialogue.
While the debate was raging, Jim, our graphic facilitator, captured the main points and connected the themes. Bill looked up and said, “It seems we’re all in this mess together, and all are experiencing the same frustrations.”
Someone said, “The system causes good people to do bad things.”
Another asked, “What’s the system?”
Our focus shifted to tracing the building process upstream to the fountainhead. How does a project begin, and how are the rules set up?
We concluded that the traditional process to develop, design, and deliver a building creates distrust, fragmentation, and rewards malicious behavior.
We more clearly understood the quote, “A system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting.”
If you bring any group together to discuss solving a complex challenge the tendency is to jump to solutions before understanding the problem and unraveling the interwoven components.
I learned three lessons during this first MindShift session.
The best illustration I've found is the locker room scene from Moneyball where Billie Beane is confronted with a system designed to keep their team in the basement.
His scouts try to go back to traditional ways of solving the problem and their attempts sound silly after Beane explains the context they face. The box below plays that scene.
After we arrived at our “aha” and experienced the mind shift about why our industry had been stuck for decades, someone asked, “What would a trust-based system look like, and is anyone doing it.”
I identified eighteen outlier projects, and we chose six to travel to. I invited local experts to participate in two-day summits to add fresh perspectives to our work. I also recruited a broader virtual team to gather research and review our progress.
Our onsite case studies gleaned how the project was developed and delivered. But we were more interested to learn how the project leaders convinced their organization to take a novel approach.
We discovered some basic principles followed by these outliers. Then there were tools and processes like virtual design and construction, relational contracting, and Lean practices; some outliers used these tools, and others did not.
I compiled our stories and lessons into the Commercial Real Estate Revolution book. Instead of writing to an industry audience, I wrote at an eighth-grade level for non-technical business leaders and decision-makers. Educating non-technical leaders became a vital part of our strategy to facilitate organizational change.
Wiley published the book in 2008. Our team and the MindShift process submitted for and won the H. Bruce Russell Global Innovator's Award from CoreNet Global.
Innovation is defined as an activity or initiative which brings about a paradigm shift in how business is done in a rapidly globalizing economy. It reduces a new concept to practice and makes it a commercial success. It concerns the search for and the discovery, experimentation, development, imitation, and adoption of new products, processes, and organizational set-ups.
The CRE Revolution became a catalyst for two fledging movements; Lean construction and Integrated Project Delivery. Google used the book and applied its principles to assemble a team focusing on team chemistry, candid trust, and early trade participation. The nature of the problems we addressed in the construction industry was similar to many problems in other domains that have remained stuck for decades.
During early work on Google’s headquarters, the head of real estate and construction asked if the MindShift process could tackle the problem of employee engagement, workplace culture, and change. His request turned into the second MindShift initiative. The project code name became CASE4SPACE.
I followed the same approach adding a full-time graphic facilitator to choreograph and visually capture our summits. The eighteen-month project included eight summits resulting in the book, Change Your Space, Change Your Culture.
We submitted our CASE4SPACE initiative to CoreNet for consideration and won its 2015 Industry Excellence award.
Go or No-Go
Expose the System
Go and See - The Future is Already Here, Just Not Evenly Distributed
Connect the Dots
Tell the Story - The Book Barnraising Summit
Book Proposal and Book
Spreading the Word
We teach participants how to turn research into storytelling. The button below is a video to walk through the storyboard kit the teams will use to create their story of our research.
MindShift 2.0 will focus on more urgent issues and a quicker turnaround. The retreat center, with its five buildings, provides an exciting new tool.