About a month ago, Benjamin Mitchell kicked off a thread on kanbandev called How does the Kanban Method reduce fear about role changes if change is emergent/unpredictable, mainly a discussion of what Kanban meant by “respect”. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time but I was not completely satisfied. Now that I have finished reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler) I have a much better sense of what I was missing from that conversation.
This excellent book is all about how to handle better those crucial conversations where opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions run strong. Highly recommended, and I have added the related books Crucial Confrontations and Influencer to my reading backlog too.
One (of many) very relevant part of the book explains how mutual respect helps to create a safe environment into which all participants in a crucial conversation can contribute. And without safety, the book argues, real dialog is impossible. Where mutual respect needs to be created, focus on similarities instead of differences.
Now I can draw a parallel with what we do when we use Kanban to surface, investigate and address difficult process issues in organisations. Whether we are acting as internal staff or external facilitators, our task is to get the heart of things, to be “seekers after truth” (Senge-style). This requires dialog! Hence the “Respect for people” pillar of Lean, the “Respect current roles and responsibilities” of Kanban, and Deming’s “Problems are 94% in the system”. To these I could add some favourite phrases such as “it’s about the work”, “organisations have needs too”, and several more that move the focus away from the person to the work and to the broader system, creating safety. Speaking from recent personal experience I can say that they really help, together of course with the facilitative mindset that goes with them.
So when I hear hear managers or team members personalise their criticisms of others (“they’re so unprofessional”), see references (even in jest) to “evil management” or consultants speaking in ways that seem disrespectful of their clients, I cringe and (increasingly) I challenge. How do we improve anything by starting with blame? Instead, what reasonable explanations might there be for the behaviours we observe? What might we all be missing?
It’s easy to judge (and yes I see the irony: perhaps I’ve just been a little guilty of it myself here) but it doesn’t get us very far. Catch me making more serious infringements and you are invited to call me out 🙂