Common Team Breakdowns (and How to Prevent Them)

Why do teams so often fail to achieve the results they were created to accomplish?

We sat down with Laurie Durnell, The Grove’s director of consulting, to get her thoughts regarding the team challenges she sees most in the field. The following is a distillation of that conversation.


Clique Mentality

People gravitate toward individuals that think like themselves or have a similar “style” to their work. Style differences can be interpreted as a source of conflict, rather than a strength. For instance, big-picture thinkers can be seen as unrealistic by detail-oriented implementers. In the same way, feet-on-the-ground folks can be seen as resistors by visionaries. People can take different style behaviors personally. We judge one another and often attribute motivations that may not be there rather than leveraging our differing abilities.

People also connect more easily with people that are part of their everyday work flow, while having difficulty with remote team members and with those with whom they don’t often interact. These combined factors end up creating an “in-group” versus “out-group” mentality, much like cliques in high school.

Working with teams to appreciate individual differences and points of view is foundational for team success. Making time in regular meetings to have personal check-ins is one way to improve the informal connection that is necessary to loosen up the cliques.

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Equipping Park Leadership for Change


The National Parks Institute (NPI) Executive Leadership Program has made a comeback, and The Grove is once again centrally involved. Over the course of ten days, 22 leaders from 11 countries and eight U.S. Parks immersed themselves in a learning journey, taking them from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the S.F. Bay Area, to UC Merced, and then to Yosemite National Park. It was a powerful experience for those involved, and David Sibbet, The Grove’s founder, was the facilitator throughout.

Three NPI sessions were held in the early 2000s, and Steve Shackelton, former chief ranger at Yosemite and now linked to the new Gallo Management Program at UC Merced, tapped The Grove once again to help lead the process.

“(The program) is a signature statement in strategic management of parks and earth’s most precious protected areas,” Steve said. “The goal is to develop problem-solving leaders and to create a more harmonious global community of practice that highlights the full spectrum of diversity, both in people and culture—and within the natural world.”

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Adapting to Virtual Work – 7 Takeaways from The Grove’s Experience

In the past decade, the rapid evolution of technological advances has made it much easier for people to work, meet and team virtually. Some organizations have jumped right into the virtual space and revolutionized the way they work, while others are struggling to create virtual-work processes for a mix of co-located and remote staff. As global teaming becomes more essential and workers of all ages—especially millennials—increasingly make employment choices based on flexible workplaces, the need to adapt is no longer a choice for many organizations. As The Grove has embraced working virtually not only with our clients but also as an organization—some staff members frequently work remotely—we’ve developed our own approaches to virtual collaboration. The following is a sampling of adjustments we’ve made and lessons we have learned.

1) Good meetings—virtual meetings included—are about people first, technology second.
Facilitation know-how is even more important in virtual meetings.
If you are not getting people engaged in lively discussions that meet your desired outcomes, then your meetings will not be effective, no matter how adept you are with technology. Virtual meetings require extra care by framing discussions and connecting people to allow for collaboration to flow. Creating human connections breaks down the distance and cultural barriers that can make working in a virtual environment especially difficult. To facilitate virtual meetings, we continue to adhere to The Grove’s Facilitation Model™ and teach our Facilitating Virtual Collaboration Workshop with a focus on people processes at the core. 

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A Year of Leading Change with The Metropolitan Council

Recently The Grove engaged in a yearlong project with the Metropolitan Council (Met Council or Council) in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, focused on building internal process leadership capability. The Metropolitan Council is a regional body that oversees all of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s wastewater, metropolitan transit, housing projects, and regional-planning efforts.

One of the Met Council’s major goals is to work more systemically and collaboratively, not only internally but also regionally and with the communities they serve. The leader of the Environmental Services division, for example, is working toward an integrated and environmentally sustainable water management approach by 2050—a vision which is referred to as One Water.

The Council asked The Grove to help it develop the internal capability to support these efforts by offering a yearlong Leading Change Program for 20 of its emerging leaders from across the organization. read more…

Mapping Social Messes: A GLEN Exchange with Bob Horn

Recently Stanford scholar Bob Horn, longtime friend of The Grove and fellow pioneer in visual thinking, led a GLEN Exchange * introducing his “mess mapping” process for exploring social messes and their causes. Author of Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century, he is a specialist in mapping complex social problems. Currently he is writing a book called The Little Book of Wicked Problems and Social Messes. 

Bob Horn during his GLEN Exchange

In mess mapping, a group of diverse stakeholders tackles a challenging problem by taking one set of problem-causing factors at a time, looking to understand and visually represent the complexities and cross-boundary causes. The goal is to raise awareness while also creating a possibility for new social constructions of meaning, potentially with coordinated problem solving.


Defining Social Messes

“I got the idea of ‘messes’ from (early organization-development pioneer) Russell Ackoff,” Bob explained. “Ackoff said, ‘Often many problems are systemically interrelated. We don’t have a word in English for that, so I will adopt the technical term mess.’ I liked that a lot, and I thought it was a deep insight. Because I think that messes are all social, I use the term ‘social messes’ to describe wicked problems, unruly complex problems, important or even urgent problems that affect many people.”  

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