Last month Lynn, Karen (our new COO – yay!) and I travelled to the beautiful Barossa Valley for a strategy planning weekend, prior to a client workshop in Adelaide. It was great! A fabulous opportunity to turn our tools back on ourselves (more on that in a future post), establish our new business structure, and decide how we would work together moving forward. And of course, enjoy all the lovely stuff (wine!) the Barossa has to offer.
As we talked about decision making, Karen observed that she’d never seen Lynn and I disagree (after 2 months working with us, and 2 years of observing us working together). At that, Lynn and I turned to look at each other and simultaneously burst out laughing. You see, the thing is Lynn and I DO disagree. All. The. Time. It seems to us that sometimes we take opposing views on things just for the fun of it. We’ll disagree on workshop content, what work to pursue, where the cables should go, whether there is such a thing as too much cheese… (actually, that one is a lie – we’ve never disagreed on that). There is at least one thing every day that we will disagree on, and usually more.
The point is - even though some people who have known us for a long time think that we’re pretty similar - we are actually not, and we think very differently. And that is a Good Thing. So how is it that someone working in close proximity to us could not notice that we often start a conversation from very different positions? I’ve been reflecting on this a lot, and I think there are a few reasons:
We’re aligned on the things that matter. Our purpose is shared, even when our thoughts about how best to achieve that purpose are not. And that turns out to be fundamentally important. However strongly held our views are, we can always come back to that place where we agree - and refocus on the outcome we are seeking.
We respect each other. A huge amount. We know each other’s weaknesses, but we really admire each other’s strengths. And we rely on them.
We know each other. Because we talk. Constantly. About everything. That doesn’t mean sharing all our personal information (though we do, or at least I do because I have no TMI filter). But we raise issues, we know how the other feels about situations, and we know what issues are going to require discussion to resolve.
We pit our ideas against the other – not our selves. That means when we are disagreeing, we are interrogating and playing with the concepts, and seeing what stands up to challenge. Our ideas are in conflict, but we are not – probably because of points 1 and 2.
We compromise. For us, compromise isn’t about what we give away, it’s about what we create space for. Sometimes letting go of firmly held positions opens us up to try new ones on for size. And that ultimately leads to better ideas.
(really 5a) ….but compromise takes both of us being willing to talk about where we are willing to budge, and where we are not. Knowing that is kind of like drawing one of those pictures that start out as a couple of lines on a page, and then you have the freedom to come up with something really creative around it. In that way our hard lines are starting points, rather than boundaries.
Finally, we know we are better together, so we challenge deliberately. We see the combination of our efforts in everything we do together. And it is always better than anything either of us could have achieved separately. Because it has been challenged and tested and shaped by our disagreement.
We talk about turning conflict into a creative process a lot in our workshops and our work with clients. So, while our first reaction to Karen’s statement was raucous laughter, our next was a shared sense of pride. Pride that our regular, often robust disagreements were not experienced as something negative, because they are necessary, respectful, and productive.