Volume 11, Number 2
Lewin and Regine founded Harvest Associates, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, bringing the principles of complexity science to
They wrote Weaving
Complexity & Business: Engaging the Soul at Work (Texere,
London, England, 2001). Copyright 2000 by Roger Lewin and Birute Regine.
Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. NY .
pseudonym), a technically brilliant chief information officer,
worked for a large company, and was considered to be among the
best in the world. He
attracted many people who wanted to face the technical challenges
along with him and develop their skills under his guidance.
Jeff put together
a very skilled team for a major project—a dream team—and
quickly got everyone working.
A year and a half later, all the members of his team
resigned. So Jeff
assembled another team, and the same thing happened.
He would lose several people and bring new ones in until he
basically had a brand-new team. Jeff became confused about being a leader.
What was the
problem? If we focus
on relationships, the mystery resolves itself.
Knowing intellectually that relationship building is
valuable, Jeff tried to develop team-building skills in a very
mechanical way. He
had strategies for talking to people, engaging them, providing
opportunities. But he
wasn’t really there; he was only going through the motions to
reach certain ends. He
didn’t see genuine
relationships as being very important or having much value—it
was more an obligation and something he did initially for team
building, because it was the thing to do.
strategies and skills worked.
But as soon as he got a team spirit going, he would think,
done the relationship, connection, feedback stuff.
Don’t need to do it for another year or so.
Now we can get to the real work.”
He, in a sense, devalued relationships by making
nonrelational activities more important, by separating
relationships from real work.
Since he didn’t
value relationships in and of themselves, he was unwilling to give
up something valuable in order to develop them—time. He thought developing relationships was a waste of time.
This was due partly to the fact that he wasn’t really
interested in people personally.
His agenda at meetings rarely included people as people,
such as asking, “How are you doing?”
“How is the team getting along together?” and all those
things that can build a sense of connection.
When he did ask someone how they were doing, it wasn’t a
personal question. He was asking them to tell him how business was.
By not being interested in people for themselves, Jeff
disconnected himself from the team.
were no relationships holding the team together, when they
encountered a particularly stressful period, they had nothing to
fall back on, nothing to hold on to.
And the team fell apart.
members initially expected to find a community of relationships.
That’s not unreasonable given they were spending seventy
hours a week with each other and were sacrificing a balance in
their lives. If they
didn’t have much community in their work or their lives, then a
significant portion of what made them human beings, what makes
people feel good about themselves, was gone.
When all else is the same, and people don’t have the work
relationships they want, it becomes a priority; thus, Jeff’s
It’s not that
Jeff himself may not have longed for connection and
relationships—we all do; it’s our nature.
It’s how we grow and thrive.
For whatever reasons, Jeff had lost connection to that need
in himself, and a result had developed a strategic
paradox. He tried
to develop team relationships without being
truly present. Strategic
paradoxes are interpersonal strategies people develop that prevent
from occurring the very thing that the person needs in order to be
successful and want to have as a human being.
These strategies paradoxically prevent genuine connections
and relationships; that is, they maintain disconnected and
superficial business-based relationships.
maintain disconnected relationships for the sake of keeping a job,
for the sake of keeping a customer, for the sake of getting a job
done—all of which sounds laudable.
But these strategies work only for the short term.
They do not work in the interest of sustainability of work
relationships with customers and co-workers, because connections
are weak, as in Jeff’s case.
When push comes to shove, people move on rather than move
together to take on the challenges.
organization, weak connections make for a poor flow of
these strategies, by leaders at any level, collude to preserve
existing hierarchies, inequalities, and isolation, limiting
feedback loops and thus adaptability.
Strategic paradox is like comedian Steve Wright put
it—suffering from amnesia and déjà vu at the same time; that
is, a feeling that you are forgetting the same thing over and over
again—the need for connected and caring relationships.
of Small Actions
practice starts with you and how you interact.
It’s committing to developing relational skills by
attending to the quality of your exchange with people.
Being too busy is no excuse.
You cannot afford not
to improve these skills. It
really doesn’t take a lot more of your time.
You already spend time interacting; it’s a question of
how you spend that time and the quality of the exchange.
Isn’t it worth taking just a little bit longer to find
out someone’s point of view you don’t understand, rather than
summarily dismissing it as being off target?
It’s a practice
of developing personal awareness through reflection and action—an awareness of our impact on others and
their effect on us, and being aware of the quality of the
relationship itself and taking responsibility for “it.”
If “it” doesn’t feel right, it needs to be addressed. It’s seeing what you bring to relationships, what others
bring, and being clear in representing yourself.
It’s avoiding knee-jerk reactions, and allowing time for
reflection before action; that is, responding, which engages
rather than alienates. Change
toward a more adaptive and humane workplace starts with each
person willing to take an honest look at themselves and act
leaders must set the examples.
practice is a practice of small actions—the small things we say
and do in our interactions that can engage or alienate, nourish or
deplete. We may
strive for great things, but life consists of small things.
Cultivating relationships is a daily practice, something we
ought to be working on most of the time.
And we can work on it while we’re busy at work.
It’s not about “building relationships,” because
relationships aren’t structures that can be built and completed,
and then left on their own. Relationships start
with a connection that happens when people share a mutual interest
in each other, and then they unfold and may develop, often in
Pay attention to the four A’s of relational practice: be authentic, acknowledge others, be accountable, and be attentive. Then enjoy watching dedication, creativity and innovation flourish.