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rLiving Day 28: Forgiveness (Power)

Posted by Simon on May 29, 2010

Ill-health and even violence in a relationship between individuals, groups, tribes and nations is likely most often due to an asymmetry in power. More likely it’s due to an abuse, real or perceived, of that asymmetry by the powerful over the powerless. And even more likely it’s due to an acute sense of injustice over past abuses and an unwillingness or inability to forgive.

When you’ve been the victim of what you perceive to be an injustice you feel like someone owes you something. There’s a debt outstanding. And until that debt is paid, until “justice is done”, you cannot rest easy and certainly your relationship with that person or tribe or institution will not be happy or healthy. The deep tragedy of those unwilling to forgive, however, is that non-forgiveness represents a holding on, almost a dependency, almost a sense of powerlessness. It’s as though the offender dominates you, controls and manipulates you, keeps you from sleeping, keeps you from enjoying yourself, keeps you from “moving on” to form new and better relationships. And all this while they, usually, walk around blissfully unaware they’ve done anything wrong!

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

That all sounds like a major power asymmetry to me. But in this case the exercise of that power, in what almost feels like even further abuse, is entirely self-inflicted. Yes, of course, if the offender somehow repays something then in a sense justice is done. But their attempts at righting the wrong mean nothing if you don’t forgive them.

From these posts here and here, it seems that one of the major reasons for relational problems caused by power asymmetry is that we equate power with value. The second major reason is that we ascribe or devolve power to another simply by not forgiving them. These two things we can evidently do something about. Can you imagine the mental and relational liberation it would be if we saw people as equally valuable (no matter how powerful they were) and if we forgave them (even if they didn’t seek forgiveness)? These things are within our responsibility and ability to do.

[Update: It occurred to me as I woke up that the Power problem of forgiveness also works the other way, maybe more so. It’s less about you having a sense of powerlessness because you can’t let go of the offense of the other person. Rather, YOU hold the power over the offender because you refuse to forgive. This is where the language of ‘debt’ is helpful. Who holds the power, the lender or the person with the debt? When we say the Lord’s prayer at our church we say, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. If you know what it feels not to be forgiven when you’re desperately sorry, you know how much power the offended person has.
In any case, whether you’re the offendor or the offended, whether you feel powerless or powerful, an awareness of this dynamic can help explain why the relationship feels as it does. It also points to the need for candid and courageous conversation where confession and forgiveness can happen.]

Theological/spiritual note:
Being a Christian and all it strikes me that the age-old gospel speaks to this problem in profound and important ways. Value is personal (vs material) and the word means what it says; the value can be ‘high’ or ‘low’. But high or low to whom? “Valuing myself” is pointless because it’s just a number without reference. Heaven forbid (literally) that I rely on other people’s value of me – choosing to accept the valuation of other people who like us (or hate us) is the same as self-assessing. So to me, it seems we long to be (and fear to be) valued by a person who really knows our worth and can demonstrate it. That person would only be God. And since God has first made us in his image, then declared us “very good” (an assessment of our value and worth in his eyes unchanged by our sin) and then demonstrated his value of us and love for us by dying for us in Jesus Christ: we should confidently accept and believe that assessment. Everyone else’s and my own opinion be damned!!

Secondly, we struggle to forgive because our desire for justice is stronger than our desire for peace. In fact, our peace is dependent upon justice. We ‘hold on’ to the offender, perhaps, because we’re still fighting for what’s right. In some sense our unwillingness to forgive, no matter how much mental anguish and misery it causes us, is a wonderful sign of our deep need and longing for justice. And forgiveness feels like injustice, it’s letting someone off the hook. And in so many aspects of life there is nothing, nothing that can be done to right the wrong. Nothing can bring back the lost child, the ruined reputation, the lost innocence. So what is the offender to do? And who of us seriously reckons ourselves innocent anyway? (and isn’t our self-assessment as pointless and inaccurate as our self-evaluation?).

This is why the ancient Christian testimony about Jesus of Nazareth is so breathtakingly amazing: it says that he was the revelation of God himself, that his death was actually a cosmic act of furious judgment on every wrong, every abuse, every deep heart-breaking tragedy that has ever befallen someone, it was a forsakenness that pays in full the penalty of the offense. That is why Jesus is central to being able to forgive; because his nailed hands and feet speak the words “it is finished, justice has been done”, and he teaches us and enables us to say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. For the offender who doesn’t want forgiveness? God will respect that decision (even while he and his people on earth will/should rage against the injustice to the end of our days). But for those who do seek to be forgiven? And for those who want finally to be freed from the power the offender had over them, who want to forgive and at the same time justice? God in Christ makes that possible. And so, peace.


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rLiving Day 27: Learning with my CEO (Power)

Posted by Simon on May 28, 2010

“Connections” is an internal collaboration we have at the Forum Corporation to create and sustain ongoing learning and a sense of, well, connection. Every three months a different volunteer runs it, starting with a promotional launch inviting us to request a connection. You just say, “I want to learn about … research/IT/project management/finance/etc.” and they match you with someone. Hopefully you’ll be matched with someone who wants to learn from you also. Then you decide between you how often and for how long to meet over three months. We’re in round 5 right now and I’ve participated in four of them. One of them is still going after almost two years.

I’m in two connections right now and one of them is with my CEO, ‘Ethan’.

The usefulness of the Relational Proximity model, I’ve come to realize, is not so much about measurement; “where is the relationship on the scale?” of directness, purpose, multiplexity etc. Rather, its usefulness is that simply being aware of those dimensions of a relationship helps me understand my relational/social life, online and offline, better.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

Parity is probably the one dimension if not understood, or more likely, if misunderstood, that can cause the most dysfunction in a relationship. So an awareness of a power asymmetry can be very helpful for explaining why a relationship feels the way it does (whether good or bad). And given further thought it can help redress the imbalance.

But ‘redressing the imbalance’ doesn’t mean making everybody equal. That’s just empirically not true, is a utopian pipe-dream, and represents a total disregard and disrespect for difference. We are equal in VALUE, however. [I realize that ‘value’ could mean ‘value to the company’s objectives’, which may be different for each person, but I’m not using value in that sense.] I’ll say again, power does not equal value. Value is not contingent upon any person or any thing or even on the self, but on God alone (who values each one of us he has made higher than one can possibly imagine, enough to die for. For most of us who struggle to shed a sense of low self-worth, this is very good news!).

Understanding that power differentials exist, and that they don’t mean difference in value, is one thing. One must also understand that power is (should be?) limited to the specific task or goal. I may be stronger than you, but you may know more than me. You may be my boss, but you ain’t my mom! You’re a Police Officer, but I decide what I eat for breakfast.

And so it also goes with knowledge and learning. A difference in knowledge/skill doesn’t mean difference in value. And knowledge/skill is limited, it is not absolute and complete.

In my industry (performance improvement / workplace learning) there’s an incredibly persistent and annoying mindset that if a skill or knowledge needs to be learned, “trainers” or “Learning and Development departments” are the ones to provide it. I guess it’s inevitable in a society that has abdicated all “learning” to educational institutions, teachers, professors, trainers. But it results in learners thinking they can’t learn without teachers/trainers, and in teachers/trainers/L&D depts thinking no-one can learn without them. A good response to that is not – as I seem to see a lot – to take an absurd, almost marxist, suspicion of anyone who purports to “have some expertise worth teaching in some kind of ordered way” as though they’re some kind of fascist, party-pooping, oppressor.

No, a good response is to think: [As a learner] hmmm, how do I do this? maybe I can teach myself? who or what can help me? are there others who are learning the same thing? I don’t know/need what I don’t know, who can help me know what I need(to know)?! [As a ‘person who knows’] hmmm, who might benefit from this? how can I make my expertise/knowledge as easily accessible to others so they don’t have spend 20 yrs learning it? what could be captured and made available using media? what would be best done personally?

And, finally to my point, the ‘learner’ and the ‘person who knows’ may be the same person, depending on the context or topic, and may switch roles even in the middle of a conversation. A student may have knowledge and insight that a professor could learn, but the student ought to listen to what the professor has to say! My technology and workplace learning research may be useful to me CEO. So I’ll want (in fact I do) want to share it with him. Even as I do that, I want to learn from his 20+ years in the performance industry. I also, mainly, want to learn how he runs the business, so I ask. As he teaches me about his stakeholders, what he thinks about, what he worries about, how he makes decisions in his role, he’s interested in my questions and my thoughts. I share some of the research I’ve found that might help him manage some of his dilemmas and challenges.

In these conversations, he is still the CEO with enormous power in his specific role. But we’re of equal value. He also has an expertise and experience vastly greater than mine. But he doesn’t know everything. Because I know these things, because I’m aware of them, I am bold to approach him. Because he knows these things, he is happy to be approached. And so for the last three months we’ve met for half an hour each week, taking turns to share with each other our area of expertise and experience, but both learning.

This isn’t a suck up to the CEO. It’s also not a very sophisticated or radical idea, for us anyway. And it’s also not very complicated. Someone in our company has spear-headed it from the beginning, and she’s found volunteers all along. The sponsorship of Connections by our CEO gave explicit permission for people to spend their time on it. And a naturally curious workforce simply took up the offer of a chance to learn and connect. But I’m REALLY glad I work here!

End note:
Formal schmormal? This whole experience has been designed, you know, formally. Who knows, maybe Ethan will decide there are certain things we discussed he can put on the Knowledge Management system (which he does). Maybe he’ll decide to create a short “CEO for the day” designed classroom experience for more people. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s formal or social learning. Each has it’s place, and each of have roles to play as teachers and learners as we strive to master our arts.

Posted in first-follower, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Day 25: Derivatives! (Directness, Power, Purpose)

Posted by Simon on May 26, 2010

[This is a fairly long post attempting to examine derivatives from a relational perspective. Fun, huh! It’s becoming evident, three hours into it, that I ain’t an economist! And that there’s more to say.]

Why weren’t derivatives regulated?
In the comments of Saturday’s post Nick told me about Brooksley Born, former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Back in 1998, having become increasingly concerned with the lack of transparency of over-the-counter derivatives, and in particular ‘swaps’, the Commission issued a “Request for Comments” report. The report is a first step towards new regulations. One day later, strong objections to the report were made by the chairman of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan), the Treasury Secretary (Robert Rubin) and the SEC Chairman (Arthur Levitt) strongly objected to the release of the report.

So the three most powerful people in US finance opposed a preliminary investigation into the derivatives market. Born, apparently, wasn’t even permitted to take a closer look, let alone issue new regulation.

Why regulation should be a tool of last resort
[UPDATE: the original heading was “Why regulation sucks”, a hastily invented and unfortunate choice given the reaction “regulation” talk causes.”]
Now, I don’t honestly know what “Regulation” means when someone says the word. But it seems like people want it used like a very blunt and unimaginative hammer for constraining any excessive human nail. And even if it’s successful at that, it is ill-designed to foster virtuous innovation, creativity and trusting relationships. “Law” does have a place in fostering trust, I guess, by letting everyone know where the boundaries are. But by placing the locus of moral restraint on the law rather than in the human heart and in human relationships, one underestimates what the human heart is capable of and opens up a Pandora’s box of deceitful ingenuity that requires more law.

Regulation and a lack of transcendent moral authority
I’m so sorely tempted here to make an argument for God, or rather an argument for the inevitable trajectory of a society that rejects God or a transcendent moral authority. [And please, if you’re atheist, don’t get bent out of shape about that proposal. I would guess and expect, if you’re reading this, that you’re a person of high moral sensitivity and fortitude (not to mention a person with exceptional taste in blogs!).] But I speak about those for whom the absence of a transcendent moral authority is license to … well, create fraudulent, exploitative, derivatives. I mean if the accepted norm in a society is that morality is self-determined, that’s fine if what you self-determine is righteous and good (namely, you, dear reader!), but for everyone else? What then? More laws, more regulations (that affect everybody, even the righteous) ironically taking us back to something akin to the religious legalism from which we thought we’d liberated ourselves. Most claims for human enlightened progress assume a level of goodness and righteousness that empirically does not exist even in the best of us, and even if it does, it’s only in those who make the claim. [Oh man, looks like I did make an argument. I think I’ll be in for some fire for this paragraph.]

Regulation as “oversight”: observation of actions
The key word for the role of the CFTC, and for regulation in general, is ‘oversight‘. Over. Sight. Looking over … someone is watching! Regulation does provide specific permissions and prohibitions (the creative spirit killer), yes. But the main thing seems to be about disclosure, as with Sarbanes-Oxley for example. That’s what screams “you can’t be trusted with each other!”. No gentleman’s handshake for you two! The authority needs to know, for the sake of everyone else.

Relational analysis of derivatives.
So the big question I want to ask is: how do we create a different form of oversight that is built right into the financial relationships embedded in entrepeneurial activity and human exchanges of labor, material and time? First we have to examine the system relationally.

From Wall St to Farmer Bob. Or, Financial Risk Management made easy (for me to understand)
Farmer Bob wants to harvest a field, but he can’t afford a tractor. A friend has some money to lend him, but with a few other friends they pool it together to help the farmer. Suddenly the farmer’s productivity sky-rockets, he’s even employing more people, developing better farming techniques, trying out organic methods. Only he doesn’t, the tractor blows up. All his friends lose their money. Except they don’t. They get together with yet more friends so that some of the bigger pool of money goes to this farmer, some goes to a milliner, some goes to a guy who’s invented something called a yPed. Two out of three succeed so the larger group still receive a return on their investment. Except they don’t. A tornado rips the local economy to shreds so they lose everything. Except they don’t. They get together with another group of folks out west and pool money to share in even more diverse enterprises: the confidence that a failure at one farm or one town won’t make them bankrupt encourages more people to invest their money in helping more people farm and make hats and yPeds.

And so it goes, the world of financial risk management and economic expansion. Through the eyes of a non-economist.

Financial risk and relational proximity.
In this whole scenario, you can see the possibility of accountability between the people with money and the people who use money to do something creative, productive. There’s a relational proximity between them, though growing more mediated and distant the bigger the pool becomes. There’s no ‘derivative’ pool of money that’s speculating against potential future scenarios. There IS financial speculation, but it’s “invested”, it has a stake in the end product.

Directness. It seems the greater the distance between the lender and Farmer Bob, the greater the chance that the lender will forget there’s a human being trying to make something good at the other end, and will instead only think, “how am I going to make money?”. Equally, there’s a greater the chance Farmer Bob won’t remember there’s a human being who’s risked their money with them. Purpose/Commonality. In other words, there is no longer a shared understanding of the source and purpose of the money. So relational distance (what I’ve called elsewhere, mediated relationships) contributes to a lack of mutual, intrinsic moral accountability – so now you need ‘oversight’, the law, from someone who’s not invested in either party or the relationship. There’s even greater relational distance now because the people ‘with the money’ (e.g. Wall St traders) are not even using their own money, they’re using money invested by millions of people. The traders stand in between million’s of other people and Farmer Bob.

Power. That shift in moral accountability and sense of relational investment is made more problematic by this big pool of money now being concentrated in fewer hands (e.g. Wall St traders). There’s now an enormous power asymmetry. The people with the money, who now have a lesser sense of moral accountability to Farmer Bob, can now dictate terms. The distance means their only purpose is “make more money”. The fact that Farmer Bob needs a tractor is irrelevant to them now (especially because there’s just no way ALL tractors would fail at once, or that ALL resale prices of tractors would drop at once, that would NEVER happen!). The only way to redress the power imbalance in this case is for all the farmers, and everyone else who needs money to buy houses or tractors, to get together as a community (consumer action? social media?). Or else there’s regulation.

So relational distance (directness) causes a loss of shared purpose (purpose!) and a greater possibility of power imbalance (parity).

And I think I’m done.

Except I’m not.

None of this horrid scenario would have been possible if there was no interest charged on loans. An interest charge essentially enables the lender to make money out of money. They’re being paid to lend money. So interest creates a loss of shared purpose right at the get go. If, however, the lender received money from the success of the business, THEN, lender and Farmer Bob have shared interest. Bob gets his tractor, lender gets his money because Bob is successful. Yes, pool money with others, pool with even more others, spread the risk. But keep the source of investment income in the form of business productivity, dividends. Not interest.

Now I’m done. For now.

Posted in Directness, Power, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

rLiving Day 23: Mortgage Crisis (Directness, Power)

Posted by Simon on May 24, 2010

Money, like power, gets a bad rap. It’s seen as so purely evil that we just cripple ourselves with guilt about having it or wanting it. Or else we resent, then reject, the guilt and instead embrace money as though it were God himself, the source of all life and happiness. The Bible calls it “greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3v5).

But money is actually a major cause of human relationships by mere fact that none of us inherently have everything we want or need: we have to trade. We’re forced into a relationship caused by something I have (in the nature of material, skill or time) that you want. And vice versa. ‘Money’ is often the means of that exchange. And that is a very good thing. In millions of fair and equitable transactions every day around the world, from markets in Soroti, Uganda to corporate offices in Boston, MA, relationships are established and built upon and people get and give what they want.

The evil of greed and idolatry is that it focuses on the means, money itself, rather than the ends; a fair trade relationship in which we both gain what we were seeking and even build something new in the process. The other evil of greed and idolatry is that it lusts in power over others; it relishes in being able to extract more than it gives. It leads to injustice. Finally, its irony is that it’s never satisfied. To the question, “How much is enough?”, Rockefeller wisely responded, “just a little bit more.”

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully and know each other better.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

I contend that the more a relationship is mediated – that is, the less direct it is – the weaker it is, because more mediation means less knowledge. And less knowledge means less trust. Less knowledge also means, I think, ‘less human’. When we don’t know people we render them less than fully human, less than ‘normal’. It explains why we demonize some and idolize others – we’re literally ignorant about them. So the ‘less-than-human’ becomes an object, an item, something to generalize about but not an individual with a name, a story, a past and a future.

So if we consider a relationship mediated by an unfathomable array of individuals, institutions and mathematical formula, then throw in ‘disparity’ (unequal power), I think you have an explanation of the mortgage crisis: Relational distance caused less knowledge, then less consideration, then less proper care for the human being at the end of the money chain. There wasn’t a human being at the other end, in fact, they were too distant to even be noticed.

One shouldn’t ascribe evil intent to Wall St bankers, necessarily. Greed and idolatry could just as easily be ascribed to the house buyers. No, relational distance and power asymmetry were objective facts of the matter. Even a heart of gold at either end would have had trouble ensuring an equitable trade, because between the hearts of gold were bureaucratic institutions and non-human mathematic formulae whose goal was, ostensibly, to minimize financial risk and maximize financial profit for the Lender. [UPDATE: This paragraph originally started with “One shouldn’t ascribe evil intent just to Wall St bankers.” This implied we should ascribe evil intent to house buyers also, which was not my intent! Instead, this paragraph was meant to point out that greed/idolatry is neither the sole preserve of Wall St bankers, nor, necessarily, the functional cause of the problem.]

We have a dilemma, however, and I’ll end the post with this. The financial wizardry behind the crises has just been an extension of the sound and prudent engine behind the economic explosion of the last 50 years: the pooling of money and the spreading of risk. What needs further investigation is how to manage the dilemma of relational directness and financial stewardship in such a way that it fosters parity and human flourishing in the context of trading relationships.

Posted in Directness, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

rLiving Day 19: Crime and Punishment (Directness/Power)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

Crime. A man breaks into an apartment at number 23, ransacks the place and steals money and jewelry of sentimental value. He’s disturbed by a woman who lives in the opposite apartment. He knocks her over as he escapes but she is otherwise unharmed physically.

You live over the road at No. 20 and hear about it a couple of days later. It’s been a quiet neighborhood and that kind of thing has never happened before. So you’re a bit spooked out by the whole thing but you hear the woman hasn’t been able to sleep since. The person who lives in the apartment hasn’t been able to go back there.

Punishment. The man is eventually caught and given a jail term.

Justice? What are the relational dynamics between the burglar and the others and you? What relational factors have been dealt with by the justice system?

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity. This dimension can also be considered in terms of fairness, or justice.

A relationship has been established between the burglar and the woman, the owner, and all the neighbors including you. If you like, the commonality (dimension #5) of the crime has bound you all together.

There has been a direct face-to-face relationship between the burglar and the woman, which makes the relationship more significant even as it’s hideous. [Makes me think I should change the definition of directness to “makes the relationship more significant” rather than “better”. What constitutes ‘better’ is determined by the purpose/commonality].

One reason it’s hideous is that he’s created an enormous injustice, an imbalance of power (actual, in terms of his physical assault, and perceived, in terms of his having left her feeling afraid). Because of your proximity to the scene, and you being neighbors (another commonality with the woman), you also have a relationship with the burglar, albeit mediated, but also negative since you too feel an insecurity and fear or powerlessness.

What has the jail term done to restore or make right these relationships?

“Restorative Justice” is something I’ll explore again in the future, but for now, watch this video that tells a similar tail. If you can’t understand the thick London accent let me know and I’ll translate!

Posted in Directness, first-follower, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 18: Global Team Dynamics (Relational Proximity)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

IMHO, “Team Interaction Dynamics” should replace “virtual teams” or any notion of a difference between “virtual” and “non-virtual” teams. Unless you’re literally within spitting distance, you’re a virtual team, until you come together again physically in shared space. So the question is, how does a ‘team’ interact,how often and why? How are relationships amongst teams mediated and managed for optimal performance? I want to look at this research and match it against the Relational Proximity model and see how Relational Proximity holds up as an analytical model, and perhaps even a predictive one.

Studying the Effectiveness of Global Virtual Teams. In 2000, Martha Maznevski and Katherine Chudoba published a paper entitled, “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.”[1] Their 21-month study of three ‘virtual’ (i.e. not geographically co-located) teams in a major US producer of technological manufacturing equipment revealed that certain factors distinguished the two successful teams from the one unsuccessful team that was eventually disbanded. They were examined with respect to the dynamics of technology use, choice of media, and group outcomes. This is my summary of a summary by Elizabeth Kelley, “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.”[2].

What made teams effective? What characterised the effective teams had to do with an interplay between task, ‘interaction media choice’ and ‘rhythm’:
– the nature of the task or group (not, “I prefer email”) determined media choice
– if tasks were interdependent they met more frequently
– if tasks were more complex (so the ‘message’ was more complex) they chose richer media
– if the team was composed of greater cultural/professional/national differences they chose richer media
– they prioritized building relationships to enable trust and shared views (this was mostly face-to-face & telephone)
– as trust increased, message complexity decreased, so they changed media choice
– the ‘planned’ meetings were only coordination meetings, regular conference calls, impromptu conference calls
– there was a ‘rhythm’ to their meetings

More about rhythm: “Effective teams also exhibited a strong, repeating temporal pattern to their interaction incidents. The basic rhythm was set by intense face-to-face meetings, with the interaction between meetings defined by a response to previous meetings or anticipation of the next. The researchers characterized the face-to-face meetings as “a heartbeat, rhythmically pumping new life into the team’s processes, before members circulated to different parts of the world and task, returning again at a predictable pace.””

Interpreting findings through Relational Proximity Lens: There’s more to the study, but I’ll take a look at just these findings. Remember, this is what characterized effective teams.

First, noticeable is the absence of learning styles, personality types or personal media preferences as a factor. Kelley’s summary doesn’t mention them. It was an intense 21 month study and I’m sure they would have controlled for those factors or rather picked teams similar enough that styles, types and media preferences wouldn’t vary greatly between teams.

Second, there were three driving factors for interaction media choice a) interdependence of tasks, b) complexity of task, c) level of trust and mutual understanding. In terms of Relational Proximity dimensions, I want to say the nature of the relational Purpose (dimension #5) is the driving factor for appropriate relational Directness (dimension #1). In other words, what they were about and their sense of common agreement on that determined how they chose to interact.

Third, a predictable yet flexible rhythm to their meetings was a major factor in success. The rhythm was determined and adjusted according to a) an upfront decision b) level of mutual trust and shared understanding (esp. in cross-cultural/professional situations) c) previous and expected outcomes. In terms of Relational Proximity, the regularity and future reliability of the meetings (dimension #2, continuity) was determined by their goal (dimension #5, Purpose) and by shared agreement (dimension #4, Parity).

So Relational Proximity is confirmed here to a certain extent. The dimensions have broad definitions and I may be stretching or confusing them a little. ‘Shared views’, for example, is clearly about Purpose/Commonality. But one could argue it’s also about power: agreement requires not forcing your opinion to dominate others, or being will for your opinion to change. I’m not sure if the proximity model has anything to say about task complexity or task interdependence (though the latter implies multiplexity, dimension #3).

Task drives (social) media selection, not the other way around! This study is 10 years old, so it was before the SoMe explosion. But that should only have added media options. It still should be the task at hand that drives media choice, not the other way around. You might ask, “ooooh! what can we do with this new tool?!”, but don’t ever just say, “well, we’re going to have blogs and wikis” without knowing why. Maybe there’s more recent research that builds on this? I know I came across an MIT study in the last couple of years. Can’t find it though. If you know of any on the topic of team interaction dynamics, media choice and the nature of the task/group, let me know. And if you have other thoughts or comments on this research and analysis, I’d love to hear it!

[1] Maznevski, Martha and Katherine Chudoba. “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.” Organization Science; Sep/Oct 2000, Vol. 11 Issue 5, p473-492
[2] Kelley, Elizabeth. “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.” Academy of Management Executive; May 2001, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p132-133

Posted in Continuity, Directness, first-follower, Multiplexity, Power, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 13: My CEO and his CEO (Power)

Posted by Simon on May 12, 2010

We had a visit from my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, the top CEO, ‘Patrick’ today. He’s visited a number of times from his usual office in London. Every year he visits all 40 or so companies that the company owns to ‘meet the people’. I welcome his visits, and I appreciate his northern (England) charm, natural good humor and candor. He’s also been a good communicator over email through some tough times in the last couple of years. And most importantly he’s shown enormous trust in ‘Ethan’, our CEO.

Thankfully, Patrick holds a lot more power than I do. So do the other four people between me and him. And they’re welcome to it.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

Power gets such a bad wrap these days. Power and control are spoken of as though they’re inherently evil. Except when it’s for us, our empowerment and autonomy. Then it’s absolutely glorious! We’re also a little hypocritical when we scream at regulators or companies or the rich for not doing stuff. “Doing stuff” presumes power to do.

Perhaps we just need a little more nuance in our talk of power. Power “for” maybe a way to talk about it. But even “power over” isn’t wholly wrong either. A voluntary, even if necessary, human organization of which I’m part has a purpose and a life bigger than my own, rightly or wrongly. So Ethan had the power – as much as I know he wished he didn’t have to exercise it – to eliminate a significant number of roles in the last 18 mths. There was no agreement by which anyone said, “I exercise my equal power to agree to lose my job!”. Ethan exercised power over us all because his power was “for” the organization as a whole. He also did it with grace and kindness because he had power “for” the individuals going and staying.

I’m not sure it’s possible, or even desirable, to avoid relations of power asymmetry. Knowing people like Ethan and Patrick are at the helm gives me great assurance and an ability just to get on with my job. Knowing my wife is wiser than me, that my daughter is weaker than me, that my friend is stronger than me and that my neighbor needs tech advice from me – these just create the web of rich interdependencies and trust that make good relationships what they are.

Clearly what needs to be avoided, among other things, is the misuse of power and equating power with value or status.

In my experience, Patrick, Ethan, and all the other bosses between me and them avoid those mistakes. The power they have “over” is exercised in such a way that feels genuinely “for”, me and for the organization. Within that, and the other constraints of working for a for-profit institution, I feel autonomous, empowered and of equal value with them all.

What experiences of healthy relationships within great power asymmetry do you have?

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rLiving Day 4: Corporate Trust (Power)

Posted by Simon on May 3, 2010

This tweet just caught my eye, and had me wondering about the relational basis of trust:

The article by Stephen J. Gill, Ph.D includes this quote from Nick Sarillo, the owner of Nick’s Pizza and Pub, describing how performance and employee turnover was wrecked for a time because of a lack of trust:

Managers trained in command and control think it’s their responsibility to tell people what to do,” Sarillo says. “They like having that power. It gives them their sense of self-worth. But when you manage that way, people see it, and they start waiting for you to tell them what to do. You wind up with too much on your plate, and things fall through the cracks. It’s not efficient or effective. We want all the team members to feel responsible for the company’s success.”

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is “Parity”. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

The reality is that Sarillo and all his managers have power. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s what makes them managers, empowered to carry out their responsibilities and make decisions. Arguably, it’s their proper exercise of power that enables others to trust them and so get on with their own responsibilities. And command-and-control is not always in opposition to trust. The armed forces rely on it (not absolutely and not in all circumstances, however).

But a pizza company? The misuse of power and/or the identification of power with status – as in the quote above – resulted in gross mistrust. So in thinking about your relationships with others, to what extent does real or perceived power asymmetry make the relationship harder and erode trust? What can someone with power (whether it seniority, physical, monetary etc.) do to build trust without necessarily giving up that power? I’m 6’2″ and my daughter is 3’4″. How do I exercise my power in such a way that produces a flourishing relationship?

1) Almost all the dimensions of Relational Proximity are important for trust. I’ll likely touch on other elements in future posts.
2) Neuroscience research is telling us more and more about ‘status’ and I’ll likely blog a lot more about that in the future. In fact, David Rock’s SCARF model reveals a lot of interesting neuroscience that I think confirms the Relational Proximity model.
3) Just a reminder: the Relational Proximity model is not mine, and I’ll say more about its origin and application after the 30 days.
4) For why I’m blogging all this, see the video on and what the 30-day rLiving thing is about.

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