Scenario: Pulling Rank

As an action learning coach, how would you handle the following situation:

A higher ranking participant of the team decides to pull rank and asks another team member – “Do you want to stay employed?”

 

Tags: Action Learning Coach

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Comments (7)

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    Michael Bloemendal

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    I would intervene and say: “I appreciate the sincere involvement of all the team members, but as the discussion seems to get overheated, I feel it is time for a 15 minutes break”. I will use this break to speak privately with the higher ranked participant. Firstly, I would ask him why he made his remark.

    It might be that it was an inappropriate joke. Then I would stress that a feeling of safety is crucial in any group and certainly in Action Learning. I would ask him to explain this after the restart of the group. I then would ask the group whether they feel that equality and safety is restored in the team. After 10 minutes I would intervene to ask them: “how are we doing?”

    However, it is possible that there is a deeper conflict between the higher and lower ranked participant. In that case it might be necessary to go back to the sponsor of the project and to suggest to change the group, e.g. by continuing without the higher ranked participant.

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    fabienne

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    I would specifically ask this member ‘how is this question relevant to the problem definition/problem solution?’, then based on his answer ask him first ‘what is the impact of this question on the team dynamic?’, then ask the team ‘what is your trust level on a scale from 1-10?’, then ‘what can we do as a team to bring up the trust number?’.

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    Ngozi Stanley Obi

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    Building on what Michael and Fabian has said, after stopping the session and having a word with the Superior,once I restart the session and notice any tension in the other participants because of this, I will abort the Session and advise the Sponsor to change the group..

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    Cristina Alafriz

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    First I will observe the group and see if the comment has any negative impact. It is possible that it was told as a joke, and was taken lightly. Or it was a sincere query about career/life options if related to the problem at hand. If no negative impact, I will let it pass, it’s not worth the intervention. However, if there is a negative impact i.e. visible discomfort, anger and/or lower levels of participation, then an intervention is called for. I will ask the group – “I noticed that the question of (name) has elicited some reactions (identify reactions). If we continued in this manner, what will be the impact on our team and the results we aim to achieve?” followed by “How would the team like to proceed?”. I will abide by the decision of the group – whether to proceed following certain agreed norms of behaviour, or to stop the session.

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    jesslyn.chow

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    As a coach, I will observe the reactions and expressions of the other teams. If it was obvious that some of the team members reacted or was uncomfortable with the remarks made, I observed that some of you were startled when that particular question was asked. “Team, what just happened?” If some or majority of them said that the supervisor was pulling rank, they feel that they cannot continue, I would redirect them and get them to share on the goal of this session. So based on what they have shared, ask them how they would want to proceed with the session.

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    DrBea

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    Wow. This is a great reminder for me in describing the scenario. My intent was the question was thrown out there in a negative way – but I could easily see the other interpretations.

    As coaches we want to lead the team to handle situations for themselves versus take someone aside.

    I would start with the 3 standard questions, as these are great for diffusing a bit of the tension before delving into what just happened. It also allows the team to self identify, which is always more powerful than if we point it out.

    If the situation was not brought up I would follow with –

    There is no rank within an Action Learning team. I’ve observed someone attempting to use positional authority, did anyone else notice that? (Obvious answer)
    What is the impact on the problem solving if we are all valued equally in solving the problem?
    How do we want to insure that we treat each other as equals as we solve this problem?

    Happy Coaching
    Bea

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    yeelaifong

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    I agree with most of the replies, that is, using the SID intervention steps (situation, impact, do) for the team to self-identify the problem and agree on what form of behaviours would be most constructive to the process.

    Taking a step back, if the client organization is one that is hierarchical, high power-distance and traditionally values ranks – for example in certain public sector agencies or military, then it might be useful, when launching the project, to invite the project sponsor to commit and state upfront to the employees involved in action learning, that ‘there is no rank within the action learning team.’

    From the perspective of the lower ranking staff, it is also a way to give them assurance that it is safe to ask questions and speak up during the action learning session even in the midst of higher ranking staff, as this is probably contrary to the cultural norms of the organization.

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