Deborah and The Starlings – Chapter 3

“Thank you everyone for coming today.” said Deborah. “I would like to welcome Jack, whom I believe you all know.” “As I mentioned in my email to everyone last Friday I would like to make a space for a more intentional conversation about our team and how we want to work together. I want to participate in this discussion as a member of the team, not as the leader, so I’ve asked Jack to come and be our facilitator for this work.”

Jack looked around the table. The Starlings (Deborah’s name had stuck in his mind) regarded him with a mix of curiosity and skepticism.

“Thank you Deborah. I’d like to begin by sharing some of my assumptions about my role and commitments here this afternoon as well as some of my apprehensions as we begin.” He took a hearty swing of the dark roast that he had brought with him.

“I’m not here as a consultant to tell you what to do. I’m not here to “fix” anything or anyone.” A couple of Starlings shifted in their seats. “My commitment is to work with all of you in a way that respects your freedom of choice, including the choice to not participate in this. He paused for a moment. “I want to share that I am coming here today with some apprehension. I am a little concerned that I won’t meet your expectations, or Deborah’s, or mine. On top of that, I am really concerned that this fear of not meeting expectations may lead me to start to subtly manipulate what we do here today to move you in a direction that I think you ought to go. If that happens, that would be the greatest failure of all. So, I’m asking for your help in drawing my attention to anything I say or do that might suggest that I’m starting to do that.” The tension in the room seemed to be lifting, although a number of Starlings still looked puzzled.

“I’d like to invite us to take a few minutes to share whatever you would like about what your experience on this team has been like to this point. You don’t have to share anything unless you want to. As well, I’m asking everyone to simply receive whatever anyone says in a spirit of learning. No response, no discussion, just receive what is offered and ponder what you hear.” Jack paused. “If anyone has questions, let’s address them now. If not, I’d like to open the floor for whomever would like to begin.”

The silence was beginning to be painful when Margaret spoke. “Um, I’m sorry if I sound negative, but I’m so frustrated I’ve come here today ready to say that I quit.” Her voice faded and then strengthened. “I have no idea what this team is supposed to be doing or what I am expected to contribute.”

Jack nodded thoughtfully and after a moment Sergei chimed in. “Who’s in charge? How are decisions made? After our first two meetings I thought that I had that figured out but then everything changed in our third meeting. I can’t work effectively if I don’t know the rules of engagement.”

Heads nodded vigorously in response to Sergei’s words. The ice had been broken and several additional contributions came in rapid succession. A long silence then ensued before Deborah spoke quietly. “I really appreciate what everyone has shared. That took courage and I want to honour that.” She shifted in her seat. “I’ll share how this has been for me, but I would ask everyone to keep in mind that I’m just describing it, I’m not blaming anyone.” Deborah took a sip of her latte. “I too have been feeling very frustrated. I’ve been ready to give up and ask them to get somebody more skilled than I to lead this team. I’m feeling the pressure of a tight schedule and challenging deliverables and thought that we just needed to roll up our sleeves and start producing. I sort of assumed that we would figure out how to work together as we went along. I think that was a mistake.”

Thoughtful silence filled the room after Deborah was finished.