Scenario: Two Owners

As an Action Learning Team Coach how would you handle the following situation: You have two problem owners for your project. You assume that the problem owners have coordinated the presentation of the problem for the kickoff session. As soon as one starts to present the problem the other interrupts with a very different view of the problem.

Tags: Action Learning Coach

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Comments (13)

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    Ed Williams

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    The fact that there are two problem presenters with different perspectives on the problem is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact the two perspectives could provide an even richer seam of inquiry for the group. I would therefore make no intervention at this point. The learning for me here is that the coach should never assume that the problem presenters have met in advance to coordinate their presentation!!

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    Christopher Stephens

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    This scenario often occurs during the course of a session when the group develops their own interpretations of the problem, broadening the perspective of the issue. The coach assists to eventualy establish a common view of the problem, and depending on the dynamic of the group may intervene to progress that common viw. Of course, there may actually be two problems, and the group may need to choose which to work on. A converation by the Coach prior to the session is always prudent.

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    Catherine Breathnach

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    In addition to the points already made, I think it would be important to ensure the ground rules are kept – particularly that statements are only made in response to questions. In this scenario, this might help to ensure that the understanding of the problem is really deepened as a result of the differing perspectives that exist in relation to it within the group already, and may help prevent a ‘battle’ mentality developing between the two people with a pre-existing knowledge of the problem.

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    Cleo Wolff

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    Ground rules and the 6 components of AL are the key to solve this problem. AL works with a problem presenter each time, at least I have understood that. Once, when I started a session, the problem was common to everyone in the team and the problem presenter almost dissapeared. Everyone was the problem presenter!It was quite difficult to keep the team focused because no one felt himself/herself the owner. So, to feel that someone is the owner is essential. Coming back, I would explain the importance of a problem presenter, her/his role and responsability during the AL session and then:
    1. I would invite the two of them to open the first problem we have to the team: We do have two problem presenters with two different view. How do you want to work with that? With the team’s decision, I would invite who has the first question and after a while would ask, in a scale from 0 to 10 how far the decison to work with the problem was good enough? If it was OK, I would invite them to ask next question. If not, I would aks what can we do to work better on that issue?

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    Philipp Werenfels

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    Most people have different views and understanding of the same issues. Consequently, coaches prefer one problem presenter who briefly presents the issue to be solved and encourage the 2nd presenter to offer his/her inquiries during the problem solving phase. The problem solving phase is more important to the process because all participants are actively engaged in developing solutions.

    If the 2nd presenter insisted to share his/her version of the problem and it was not aligned with the first version, the coach might want to ask all participants to decide, which problem was more important to solve now and schedule additional time to solve the 2nd problem at a later date.

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    DrBea

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    This is one of those that shows the criticalness of working with the problem presenter to make sure we have an appropriate problem. Knowing there were 2 who felt ownership for the problem beforehand I would ask them how they wanted to handle it. The problem presenter gets roughly 2 minutes to present the problem. If they each wanted to take a minute I would be ok with that. If they wanted one to take the 2 minutes that would work also. Whatever we agreed to upfront as coach I would have to enforce.

    Frequently, in Action Learning sessions we have problems owned by the entire team. The problem presenter is only unique for the first 2 minutes while they are presenting the problem. When teams move to asking each other question (rather than just at the pp) the energy escalates and the speed of identifying the problem and the great solutions escalates.

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      Jason Roberts

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      This is the first thing that came to mind for me as well. We learned in AL Coach training that the coach has to meet with the problem presenter before the first session. This scenario drives home the importance of this step, especially if there is more than one problem presenter. One of the benefits of AL teams is the ability to clearly define an ambiguous problem, but the team has to have something to start with. If the coach fails to help the problem presenter at least begin to define the actual problem/issue, the coach has failed the team from the outset.

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    Gail Finger

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    I have made the mistake in the past of not having good clarity with the problem presenter(s). There have been some great solutions here, and I don’t have much to add. If I ever make the mistake again (and I hope I don’t!) I really like Catherine’s approach of ensuring that the ground rules are kept to prevent a debate from ensuing.

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    Deborah Keene.

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    Lots of great ideas above… As coach, I’d hope to help the team leverage the perspectives of both challenge owner perspectives. The team exists to help the challenge owner(s) solve their problem as well as seizing leadership development opportunities for everyone. I’d ask the challenge owners how they want to proceed assisting the team to explore potential opportunities and leadership development.

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    Lizv

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    In this situation I would ask the problem owners to take a minute each to describe their problem and then to provide the team with a headline. Once we have framed the original problem/probleme I would ask the team what would be the most useful way to proceed in order to find clarity around the problem(s).

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    Rob K

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    First off, I think this scenario raises a great lesson. Always do your best to prep your problem owner before hand, and in the event of multiple problem owners, make sure they are on the same page. I also think this shows the difference between mediations or facilitations in which you might call a time out to meet with the problem owners separately and Action Learning, where my preference would be to go with it. The first thing I would do is intervene–going back to the ground rules if at all possible–to try to eliminate folks cutting each other off. I then agree with the approach to let each give a brief summary. As a second option, you could open it up to the group: “It sounds like there is a bit of a disagreement on the problem, what do you all think we should do to deal with it?” You would still probably want to add something about interrupting. My biggest concern is that if this process continues with the two at odds, there could be another problem by the end of the session. You could have a serious rift between two people who have to work together. Hopefully, you would get through that in the clarity phase, but there is the risk that one shuts down or just defers to the other. With that in mind, if it didn’t come up naturally from the other participants, I’d consider a reality check intervention towards the end of the solutions phase or as part of the reflection on learning: “I know at the beginning of our conversation the two of you had slightly different perspectives on the problem. Do you feel like you are past that now, and if so, what allowed you to get past that? If not, where do we go from here?”

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    Kelly McLuckie

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    There are some very sensible suggestions in this thread which I will draw on. In addition, in our training we were provided a list of questions to potentially pose to the Problem Owner prior to the session (prepared by Chuck Appleby). I’ve found this to be a good guide in preparing with a problem presenter and some of these questions would aid in preparation for the scenario presented here.

    For example; Do you own the problem? Are you prepared that the problem may shift as the group clarifies it? Are you willing to take action on the problem as a result of the session?

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    John Thompson

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    It is important to check in with the team on the problem/s to be presented. So clarity about the problem presenter and the briefing of the problem presenter/s is vital. Where there are two problem presenters explore these with the two team members to clarify their perspectives. It is important to respect their perspecitves and with their agreement they could both present the problem they have identified. The use of the ground rules and the check in process will allow the team to arrive at a consensus as to the real problem that they all agree needs to be the focus.

    Ron K makes an important point – prepare the problem presenter/s well. If this does not happen the first session can run out of control and the team does not leave with a clear view on the problem.

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