Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to facilitate Chimpansee behaviour in organisations?

High performance! What are the key ingredients of an effective leader? High business performance! How to create entrepreneurship and more openess in the organisation? Many training courses and teambuilding workshops are focused on the rational behaviour of people in organisations and their commitment to get a better performance of the organisation. However, the reality is more unpredictable. 'Gossip', 'sabotaging or undermining the boss', 'informal alliances to slow down organisational change', 'fear of losing position as a manager when staff become super high performers', 'manipulation to get a higher salary or a better position in the organisation', 'managing your private affairs at work' and 'delegating impossible tasks or projects to your potential competitors in your organisation, so that you can blame them'.

Social and political behaviour in organisations are still an underestimated force which are driving organisational development. How come that organisations which were successfull 10 years ago, have now become slow and conservative operating institutions? A lot of similarities can be found with the development of chimpansee communities and political behaviour in organisations. Similarities between chimpansee and human behaviour in communitiesPatrick van Veen author of 'Help mijn baas is een aap!' & 'kuddegedrag in crisistijd' identifies a number of remarkable similarities between chimpansees and humans. For example; a new chimpansee leader, the alfa man, who has just come to power, kills all the chimpansee babies to ensure that his ancestors are his. A new Chief executive who has become managing director destroys most of the favorite projects of his predecessor and initiates another restructuring. Chimpansees make alliances within their community by grooming each other. Staff create partnerships by informal meetings during lunch or at the corridor. An alfa man never gains power by himself. He always has gained support from the majority of the community before he has challenged his predecessor. After gaining power, he keeps his community satisfied by giving his supporters privelleges. A director who has gained leadership in the organisation rewards the staff who have helped him to power and sabotages his critics.

Other books that provide an interesting look into the internal politics and social behaviour in organisations are:
* Zo Zuidas, author: The Zoza's
* Chimpansee politiek, author: Frans de Waal
* Hoe wordt ik een rat? author: Joep P.M. Schrijvers
* The egalitarians human and chimpanzee, author: Margaret Power

Ways to deal with Chimpansee politicsBuilding coalitions and networking inside the organisation are mentioned in the aforementioned literature as the most crucial steps to maintain and ensure a good position within the organisation. When you become victim of such a political game, the authors refer to three strategies;

1. FightYou fight back and try to build coalitions and support against the other coalition, so that you get some of your goals persued.
2. FlightYou count your blessings, accept your defeat and prepare for another position within the organisation or look for other job opportunities outside. Why waste energy on fighting? Go for the opportunities which provide energy.
3. AdaptYou accept the situation as it is, but low down your commitment to the organisation and focus on your hobbies during your free time or the weekends.

Positive behaviour of a stable communityConflicts and politics are maybe the most interesting and intruiging aspects of organisational development. They can be both created from inside as from outside. However, both chimpansees and people prefer a stable and safe community. Researchers observed that in stable chimpansee communities, members have fun and play regularly. They have a lot of mechanisms of mutual support. Interesting is that a Chimpasee leader, the Alfa man, plays the role of listener and maintainer of the norms and values of the group. Whenever somebody is violating the rules of law, he intervenes and resolves the conflict. Researchers discovered that violent disputes amongst chimpansee members within a community are very much limited. Mostly they are resolved on a peaceful way. So, in circumstances the hierarchy is clear, tasks are done efficiently and effectively. When there are no external threats (such as shortage of food or a competing community), the living environment is safe and leadership is stable, the community takes care of each other. Of course there are still a lot of striking differences between chimpansees and people, but to a certain extent it is interesting to look at organisational development from a biological perspective. In the documentary VPRO Tegenlicht of January 10, 2011 Frans de Waal shows some of the positive characteristics of chimpansee communities: Link:

How to act as a facilitator when chimpansee behaviour is affecting the organisation?What to do as a facilitator when you are facing a group or organisation that is full with conflict and intruiging back-door behaviour?

1. Make your client responsible from the beginning and ensure a monitoring/ evaluation planA crucial step is the intake with your client. Is he/ she already aware of these conflicts? What are the reasons you have been hired as a facilitator? Don't be afraid to ask some thorough questions during your first meetings. A useful step is to formulate a focus question with your client and try to involve some key people in the preperation of your workshop. Ensure that they are the 'eyes and ears' of the group. And build in a monitoring and evaluation track where you will evaluate their findings after one or more workshops.

2. Observe different behaviour during the workshop and deal with itA lot of interesting things can happen when you facilitate a meeting. Some people dominate the workshop, others show limited interest, people openly show aggressive or conflictuous behaviour or sabotage a fruitful outcome. There a different ways to deal with this as a facilitator:
* Formulate and maintain ground rules
* List and address the expectations and check with the group on what expectations they would like to work
* Approach some of the people face to face during one of the breaks in order to listen to some of their concerns
* Address the behaviour and give it back to the group so that the group will be confronted to take its responsibility.
* Practise the art of Judo. Give the sabotaging or conflictual behaving people a responsibility
* Allow persons, when they feel they should not be there, to leave the meeting

Another way is not to deal with it, so just 'let it happen' so that the group will deal with it.
3. Evaluate at the end and just after the meeting wit the groupEnsure that you evaluate the content and the process at the end of the meeting. In case people do not feel safe to express their feelings, try to build in evaluation moments during the 'informal' moments during or after the meeting. Involve the 'eyes and ears' of the preperation team in this evaluation, so that you can share their observations during a mid-term or final evaluation after the workshop.

4. Build trust, maintain your neutral position and show your concern with the organisationMost crucial is that you ensure your neutral position as a facilitator. Be clear on your role and try to build an atmosphere of openess and trust with your client. Be sincere in what you observe, feel and experience. And show your concern and commitment that you support the organisation and its values.

In case you have additional remarks, questions please feel free to respond to this article.

Simon Koolwijk,
facilitator/ trainer
For more about courses on facilitation, consult:

1 comment:

  1. On the 2nd March 2011 a documentary on the work of Frans de Waal about chimpansee behaviour was Broadcasted on Dutch television. link: