Deborah and the Starlings – Chapter 5

“Try an Americano, expand your horizons Jack!” Deborah regarded her colleague’s hesitation with some bemusement. “What might you learn if you tried something different?”

Jack shook his head and grinned. “Nice coaching question Deborah. But…I don’t think I’m ready to go there yet.” He smiled at the barista. “A large black dark roast please.”

They settled at a patio table facing the park. A crisp autumn morning had given way to a gloriously warm afternoon and Deborah sighed happily as she regarded the colourful foliage. “This has to be my favourite time of the year. You can see things as they really are.”

“What do you mean?”

“All spring and summer everything has been green. All those reds and oranges and yellows were masked under a cloak of chlorophyll. But now,” she laughed, “just look at them, it’s like they’ve stripped off their disguise.”

“You’re not just an executive, you’re a poet,” Jack observed, “an uncommon and powerful combination. Speaking of your day job, how are things going in the avian world?”

Deborah looked puzzled for a moment then laughed. “Oh, the Starlings! A lot has happened since we met last. We got our first deliverable done on time and people seem to be working together smoothly.”

“I notice that you finished that sentence looking at the table. What else is happening?”

Deborah gave Jack a sober glance. “I’m glad that I know you as well as I do. It would be very disconcerting to have someone that I didn’t trust be able to read me so well.”

“Deborah, you know that I hold everything you say in these conversations in complete confidence. What else is happening?”

“I think that we’re stuck again. We’re getting work done and people seem engaged, but I can’t help feeling that there’s something missing still.”

“Tell me more about that.”

“I just feel that with all of the talent and experience that we have on this team we should be doing a lot better than we are. Our first deliverable was OK, but I think that we can do greater things than we are.”

Jack nodded. “What would need to change to be able to do that?”

“I don’t know. What I have noticed is that we’re not being very creative. Actually, that was what we were told when we presented our first deliverable. If I recall correctly the words were, ‘This will work but we were hoping for something much more innovative.’” She shook her head. “I know that there is so much potential in this team, we just need to tap into it.”

“Or unmask it.”

Deborah looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Your comment on the leaves. You said that their reality had been hidden and was only now coming out. What’s hiding your team’s potential?”

Deborah shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

Jack put his cup down. “The deliverable you produced, I’m assuming that there were at least a few issues where there was some disagreement within the team. What did your team do with those disagreements?”

“We handled them the way we agreed to do in the Team Charter and found a compromise that everyone could live with.”

“Was the team content with settling for a compromise?”

Deborah shook her head. “I’m not sure what you mean. We’re supposed to be working as a team, you helped us build a Team Charter that says how we’ll resolve differences.” Her voice tightened slightly. “Isn’t that what you wanted us to do?”

Jack said nothing.

After a minute Deborah looked thoughtful and said, “You know, there are some really capable people on this team with lots of experience and lots of great ideas. As individuals they have done amazing things yet for some reason when we come together it’s like all of that gets lost.”

“How would you describe the team’s skill in dialogue?”

“We’re all good communicators. We’re using the conflict resolution process that we agreed to. I’d say we are pretty good.”

Jack shook his head. “That’s laudable, but that’s not what I’m talking about. How good is the team at being able to leverage all of these different perspectives and experiences to be able to create something entirely new?”

Deborah looked thoughtful. “Based on what I’ve seen and the feedback we received, I’d have to say that we’re not there.”

“Not there yet,” Jack replied. “You know, this is something that I confess to having strong opinions on, but I believe that nothing boosts team performance more than enhancing their skills in dialogue.” He laughed. “Peter Senge thinks so to, so he must be right.”

Deborah smiled wryly. “Well, I’ve heard you suggest on several occasions that we all tend to assess a person’s brilliance by how much they agree with us. So, how do we turn a bunch of Starlings into giants of dialogue?

Her phone and Jack’s buzzed almost simultaneously. Jack stood up. “It sounds like we are both being called away. How about I send you some reading material, just a few pages, and we can dig into this question more next week?

Deborah was typing furiously. “Sounds like a great idea Jack, and in the meantime, why don’t you do some research into caffeinated beverages?”