It’s a word that often comes up in the closing analysis of one of our sessions. The “M” word.

Yes, the “M” word.


    • “We accomplished 7 years worth of work in the past 12 hours. This was nothing short of a miracle.”
    • “We found solutions, and laid out the timelines to get them done. It’s a small miracle.”
    • “I expected these two days to be a complete and utter waste of time. I can’t believe the quantity of real work we got done. It’s a miracle.”

Those are comments from three recent events; and no, I didn’t pay off any of the speakers – those comments were congruent with and summative of the rest of the comments in the room. In each case, I can remember participants nodding their heads in agreement – and at least one of these comments came from a senior executive, who should know better than to use superlatives out of context.

But we are facilitators, not magicians, and the talking stick is not some sort of a magic wand. Still, I wonder. That “M” word is awfully powerful. What causes people to drag it out, time and again? Whenceforth comest thou, oh dastardly “M” word?

I don’t know precisely where it comes from, but I think I have some ideas what it’s pointing at. So here are some of my thoughts as to why people spring that word on me, time and again.

  1. People love to do good work – but seldom get the opportunity to do so. Our principles have been developed to support human systems and human beings (collectives and individuals) to work in the most effective manner possible. Our methodology supports congruence – so actions are smoother, more graceful, faster, clearer. They may be two much-maligned words, but people truly are more effective and more efficient in our time and space.
  2. Clarity supports useful action – but is seldom present in a typical working group. When you work with us, you are working in clear support of an intention question. There is shared directionality, shared intent, and a common understanding of a common purpose. When was the last time you could say that about your typical workshop?
  3. Trust conquers all. I think this might be the biggest part of it. I’ve said before, and I will say it again – you don’t need to implicitly trust everyone else in a room in order to do good work – that would take years. What you DO need is to trust that each person cares about, and is working in service of, the common intent that brings you together.

Think of it this way – I may not know or trust you – or I may even know you and know well enough NOT to trust you – but if we are brought together in service of a safer playground for our children, unless I think you are REALLY deranged, I can trust that we will both work in service of the safety of our children.

We can say what we want about trust – and many of us in the business world choose (foolishly) to ignore it – perhaps from not knowing how to create it. What I know to be true is that no USEFUL, SUSTAINABLE forward action occurs in the absence of trust, and that with trust, hours become as years.

And perhaps that’s the “M” word of coming to work with us. No one can “contract” with a client to create trust – the premise is laughable. However, it IS possible to create an environment where real trust can grow – not touchy-feely, gone-when-you-leave-the-room trust, but real trust, based in shared understanding of common objectives, a trust built through collaboration, challenge and the open discussion of opposing points of view.

If you are part of a group that gets together once or twice a year, it CAN take years to find common ground. Petty politicking, guarded secrets and highly structured workshop environments where the real topics only ever get discussed over disgruntled cups of coffee (or pints at the bar in the evenings) all conspire to attenuate the time required to build trust. And one “bad” experience can take the group back years in time – a discussion gone sour may be avoided for 2-3 years to come.

A couple of weeks ago, I met with a group that “hated” one another. I love working with those groups. Give me hatred over apathy every day of the week. “Hatred” (they didn’t actually “hate” one another, but the trust was really low and the feelings of concern were very high) points at caring – we often feel that emotion towards someone who stands in the way of something that really matters to us.

Using a 12-Windows exercise, I enabled the group to realize that they didn’t have diametrically opposed points of view – in fact, their client-service goals were millimetres apart, separated only by different vocabulary. Once that was clarified, and they realized that they shared an exciting, common intended future state, they moved forward at light-speed. Because they only met biannually, they were able to circumvent “years” of BS, and seeing the opportunity to do good work that they knew would be supported by everyone in the room, they jumped to real action and real commitment.

So it wasn’t an “M” word.

But I can appreciate that, for those in the room, it sure felt like one.