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Improving Trust and Wholeness with Temenos

| by Ben Linders Follow 27 Followers on Dec 10, 2014. Estimated reading time: 6 minutes |

High performing environments that support agile and lean ways of working need a foundation based on trust, safety and respect. In the opening session from the Dare Festival Antwerp 2014 Frederic Laloux talked about wholeness being a key breakthrough of next generation organizations (see adopting innovative ways to manage organizations). In the afternoon Olaf Lewitz facilitated a workshop about Temenos.

Temenos consists of exercises that can be used to create a safe setting where people can open up, get to know each other, create a shared vision and develop their interaction skills. Earlier this year InfoQ interviewed Olaf about descaling organizations and using Temenos. In the interview he explained how Temenos supports teamwork:

(…) there is nothing more performant or stronger than a team where everybody knows what they want, they all know what each other wants and they have agreements in place on how they want to help them achieve it. And that’s a strong culture, a strong vision, a strong purpose in the team and they will be able to achieve anything.

In the workshop that Olaf facilitated the attendants grouped themselves into teams of 4-6 people. The workshop consisted of three time-boxed exercises where team members shared their stories. In the first exercise they looked at past influences, the second exercise explored the present situation and the third was about the future.

In the first exercise team members told stories about how they became who they are now and how they were influenced in their life. They used drawings to tell their story. Storytelling is a basic exercise which can be used to share experiences. Advantages of using storytelling are that it creates trust and helps people to deal with ambiguity.

In the second exercise, called Clean Slate, people reflected on a current situation. Olaf suggested two questions for this exercise:

  • How do I fail in that situation?
  • How does that situation fail me?

For example, people might act differently at work than they do at home. In such a situation the questions can help them to explore how they act differently at work, and what it is in their work environment that causes them to act differently.

For the third exercise Olaf asked the attendants to come up with one wish that they have for their future. This could be related to and inspired by the insights of the earlier exercises. With a hundred people in the room, the question was phrased very openly so that everyone could take something away.

After each exercise Olaf asked the attendants to share their experiences. One of the attendants stated that they started with work and ended with family, the exercises helped to get to know each other better. Another attendant stated that a simple drawing can carry complex emotions and helps to discuss them. People were surprised how quickly they felt they got to know each other, and how quickly they had meaningful conversations with people they had not met before.

InfoQ interviewed Olaf about the needs of agile teams, practices for Temenos labs, benefits that Temenos can bring and experiences of teams that have used Temenos.

InfoQ:  You stated that trust, safety and respect are important for agile teams. Can you explain why?

Olaf: There are multiple reasons, depending on our mental model of organizations. Every human being deserves to live and work in an environment where they feel safe, trusted and respected. This is not only true for people in agile teams. The more influential you are, the more impact your trust will have on the organisation’s effectiveness. 

Organizations exist for a purpose, and our contributions to that purpose will be the more effective the more of our energy we focus on serving that purpose. Trust and safety are preconditions for us to fully show up at work, to fully engage with others in our teams. Information will flow faster. Less energy goes into keeping myself safe. Less energy goes into discussions and politics, more into making progress and getting stuff done. I recommend doing Temenos with leadesship teams: their behavior is a role model for everyone in their organisation.

InfoQ: Can you mention some of the practices that can be used in Temenos labs?

Olaf: The standard structure of a Temenos looks into past, present and future. Influence Maps help us understand our past influences, Clean Slate helps us understand patterns in the present, and with Personal and Shared vision we look into the future. Each of these can be individually used.

Hero Feedback is a personal feedback format that emerged from our Temenos practice. It’s non-offensive as it uses a hero from a story to give the feedback to. That way it’s optional for the receiver: you’re invited to accept the comparison with the hero, and if you see the similarity to your own story, the feedback may be very relevant to you.

InfoQ: Why would a team do a Temenos lab, which benefits can they get out of it?

Olaf: From my experience, there is one primary goal and two additional benefits.

The primary goal is gaining clarity on what we want, identifying patterns in our behaviors and expectations, which either help us get what we want or block us from getting it. This clarity helps us being more deliberate and intentional in our behavior, individually and as a team.

The effect of Temenos is most profound for the leadership team of an organisation. If you want your organisation to significantly change or shift, for instance towards self-management or agility, having the leadership people reflect their behavior and become more intentional will catalyse a lot of beneficial effects. 

One growing side effect of the story telling in Temenos and the practice of listening is increasing trust, building an ability to create trusted space for challenging conversations. This enables us to resolve conflict more quickly, to look at reality together even when that’s painful. A team with that ability will spot chances and risks earlier and act on that information.

The second side effect is the increased ability to leverage diversity. When we listen to each other’s stories, learn how others came to perceive the world as they do and reflect how we view reality differently, we may stop getting on each others nerves and actually use this diversity: we simply have more available options to deal with the ambiguity of reality.

InfoQ: Can you share some of your experiences of teams that have used Temenos?

Olaf: The most frequent feedback we hear is that folks feel closer to each other, knowing each other better which eases a lot of communication. Understanding where their teammates are coming from helps them interact with less conflict: My colleague sees the world differently from how I see it. In the past that frequently got on my nerves, and we’ve had fruitless discussions. Now I understand his perspective and value it differently.

One team where folks were frustrated with each other and didn’t want to work together anymore did a one-day Temenos. We discovered their frustration was caused by outside influences they had never talked about and just misattributed “mad behavior”. They left the Temenos with relief and a sense of common purpose to do something about the outside context, instead of continuing to fight each other.

One example that particularly moved me was a personal vision session at the beginning of a team retrospective. One developer was not drawing anything. When he shared his vision from the blank paper, it moved me to tears: “I had to make a choice two years ago, when I learned that my technical experience is not going to be useful anymore for the new business of the company. I had to decide between continuing to work with the people I love and continuing to grow as an expert in the technology I love. I chose the team and let go of my vision for myself.” Knowing his story, the team could help him. Half a year later I learned that he had found a new passion that was actually making him happy.

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Temenos in Germany by Peter Jetter

Olaf partnered with a friend of mine, Christine Neidhardt, when they offered Temenoi in Germany 2013 and 2014.
ecomenta.de/index.php?id=115 (german)
and
trusttemenos.de/

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