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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to Win the World Cup, Improve Health Care, and Defeat the Taliban

I sat over a cup of tea talking to a doctor.  He told me that he almost didn’t come to the physician colleague group I have been running at his hospital because it sounded too “touchy feely.”  I smiled, appreciating his honesty.  He is not alone—many busy people believe that getting to know one another below the surface is a time luxury they simply can’t afford.

In my opinion, we can’t afford not to.

France’s soccer team was supposed to contend for the World Cup.  Instead they totally imploded in a spectacular display of disunity.   General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his duties in Afghanistan, not because of his performance on the battle field.  Rather it was a breakdown of trust and communication between him and President Obama.

In the meantime, I am hip--deep in studies showing that patient outcomes improve at hospitals where the staff pays attention to teambuilding.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that they aren’t easy.  Whether talking about a soccer team, running a war, or working in an emergency room, working together is complicated.  Each of us is an intricate, knotty, convoluted blend of neurons and needs, light and lunacy.  Add the pressure of whatever the battlefield represents in your work, and it makes for a sensitive environment.

Most research indicates that the simple act of knowing one another at a deeper level improves communication and work performance. Taking a few moments to deepen relationships amongst colleagues when you are not in the heat of the battle usually improves team performance when you are there.

I am pleased to report that the aforementioned doctor is now an active part of our physician colleague group. He is honest, authentic and articulate.  If I ever found myself on my back in an emergency room, I would hope to see his face looking down on me.  Along with an appreciation for his medical skills, I would be glad to know that he is a part of a team that communicates well.

Working on our relationships with colleagues is not a touchy-feely luxury.   It can be the difference between winning or losing, life or death.

Question:  How is your team functioning?  What can you do to make it better?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ending Well

This is an interesting time of year.  There are many new beginnings, with something fresh coming up in the garden almost every week.  But it is also a time of endings.  School years, graduations, and programs that have run since September are winding down.

This week my daughter had her last day of school.  Last week I participated in the Memorial Service of a cherished mentor.  Later this summer a friend is moving.   All of them endings of one kind or another.

Ending well matters for many reasons. Management expert William Bridges once said “In my work I see teams, departments and sometimes entire companies fall apart because they never found a way to grieve over a significant loss.” (Managing Transitions, p. 26)  Ending well is the first step toward whatever is going to come after the ending.

Clearly ending a school year and grieving a beloved family member is not the same thing. There are risks to generalizing.  But all are kinds of endings, and I see some similarities.  Here is a start:

1. Ending well means acknowledging pain:  Ending usually hurts.  There are good times to celebrate that will be missed.  There are people who have been important that we will not see.  Something that once had meaning for us will no longer be there.  Even if the event or person has been challenging, there is a lot of ourselves we have put into the experience.  Sometimes there is the acknowledgement that dreams we thought would come into fruition have not.  Endings are about limits, something we humans generally find painful.

2. Ending well means expressing gratitude:   Often our gratitude is obvious—students can give thanks for teachers and what they have learned; mourners can give thanks for the time they had with their loved one; laid off employees can give thanks for what their experiences have taught them.  The beloved friend I am missing used to say “Nothing is wasted.”  God can use any experience, even the hard ones.  There is much to grateful for.

3. Ending well creates space for what is next:  Ending well is really the first step for what comes next.  Releasing something or someone means that are hands are now free to receive whatever is the next call.  We will be more open to the next job, next relationship, next task if we have lived fully into our goodbye.

Just one example:  A group of Lumunos folk who have put on a conference every year for the past 30 or so are wondering if the time has come to stop meeting.  So there is an email exchange happening as they process this important moment.  This morning I was moved to read these words from the unofficial chaplain of the group:

Pictures of their faces come to mind as I write. I remember once feeling like I was walking alongside one unknown, whose life was really a death, hidden cave-like behind boulders of guilt and shame. There is life in this person now, an identity acknowledged and accepted, that was birthed in the FAW/Lumunos community. I've witnessed literally hundreds of faces, bearing the pressures to keep life afloat, loose those marks; replaced by the glow drawn from the flow of the Spirit moving through our small groups. I cherish those memories and celebrate those lives..

 And I'm grieving those faces I won't see again until we eat together at the table our Lord is preparing for us all. My sense is my call is to say good bye. Goodbye to a community and a process that gave me a place. A safe place to love and be loved. If the time has come for us all to bid good bye to this weekend in February, then the time has come for me to thank all of you for making it all happen.

Did you hear it?  Acknowledgment of pain.  Expression of gratitude.  And the realization that saying goodbye is a kind of call in its own right.  One that makes room for a new call.

What else makes for ending well?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Call Story #57: What Am I Doing in this Dumpster?

Every day people are living out their call in a million different ways.  Today’s call story involves a mother and a trash can.

Lisa McCarthy started a recycling program at Mark Twain Elementary School in Long Beach, CA. It sounds much easier than it actually was. When Lisa first realized how much was being thrown out at lunch time, she approached school officials. They approved the creation of the recycling program - if Lisa did everything herself.

In Lisa’s story, there are a number of themes common to people following their call.  While sometimes these moments happen in neat, chronological order, more often they pop up at random times:

1. The “Uh Oh” Moment:  Lisa describes the moment when she realized how much recyclable trash was being thrown out.  “Uh oh” she thought.  “I am going to have to do something about this.” It is that moment when we realize that we are being called to act, and our action is not necessarily going to be fun or easy.  We need to do it, but something inside of us (rightly) says, “This will be hard.”  In her book Call to the Soul, Marjory Bankson names this resistance to call.

2. The “You are on the Right Track” Moment:  Lisa started talking about the problem to other parents, and a lot of heads started nodding.  Not everyone thought she should do something about it.  (See below)  But people she trusted consistently said, “Yes, this is right.” Confirmation of call from others is important, or we risk misreading the signals we are getting.

3. The “Start Simple or you Won’t Start” Moment:  By her own admission, Lisa didn’t know what she was doing.  (“I didn’t even know what I didn’t even know.”)  But she didn’t have the luxury of developing a well thought out plan, tested and evaluated.  For a variety of reasons, she needed to act quickly.  So she acted in some simple and basic ways, just taking the first small steps forward to developing a recycling plan for the school cafeteria.  Making it up as you go is often a part of the early stages of following a call. Change expert Robert Quinn calls this “building the bridge as you walk on it.”

4. The “Oh Oh” Moment, Part 2:  If the first resistance comes from inside us (see #1), the second often comes from others.  In Lisa’s case, it was the school cafeteria employees who were not pleased.  Lisa was upsetting standard practice that had been in place for years.  Following her call meant others needed to change, and that didn’t make them happy.   In a variety of ways she was seen as an enemy to the cafeteria employees.  Following call usually means doing something that someone isn’t going to like.

5. The “What Am I Doing Upside Down in this Dumpster?” Moment:  One day a few months in, the janitor inadvertently threw out some recyclables that Lisa had worked hard to separate the day before.  So there she was, halfway in the dumpster, fishing around for juice boxes that were recyclable.  It was emblematic of the many moments she questioned why she was following this call.  Along with angry cafeteria workers and dumpster diving, her own kids resisted initially.  “I am just trying to do a good thing here”, she thought.  “Why is this so hard?”  These moments do not necessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing.

6. The “I Am Making a Difference” Moment:  It is now a few years later, and Lisa can see the difference she has made.  Some of it is easy to measure:  Since starting recycling, the cafeteria now throws away only one barrel of trash a day, rather than eight.  Sometimes our “I am making a difference” moments are less concrete or measurable.  We need to have them in some form, or we cannot keep going.  And sometimes we need others to point them out to us, because, well, we are halfway in the dumpster.

7. The “Give it Away” Moment:  Lisa persevered, and by the second year she had established the Green Team at Mark Twain Elementary School.  Now many of the students are eager to join with Lisa and other volunteer parents.  At some point the work needs to be shared or given away.

What is your call these days?  Do you recognize any of these moment?

Lisa McCarthy’s story can be found on the archives of the radio show The story.  And for another recycling story, check out Marty Resotko’s article from the Lumunos archives.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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