David Sibbet | Organization Development
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I was saddened to hear that my friend and colleague Allan Drexler passed away recently. He was 88. In the 1980s, he and I co-developed the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® (Model) and the facilitative methods and tools connected with it. Without Allan we would not have this model. The depth of his field experience with teams, coupled with his deep understanding of group dynamics developed in sensitivity training work at National Training Labs, kept the work grounded in the real world of working teams.

How the Work Beganteamperformancesketchtalk

I first met Allan in 1982, when I gave a workshop about facilitation that included Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process. Allan shared a team-building model he had developed with Jack Gibb, an influential social science researcher, and Marv Weisbord, a thought leader in organizational development. It laid out predictable questions people ask when joining a group: Why are we here? Who are you? What are we doing? How will we work together? (The model is illustrated here in a Sketchtalk I did on the subject).

At that time Allan was working extensively with matrix-type organizations. He invited me to explore writing a book on the subject as well as collaborating with him in his General Mills client work. A year of productive work together led to our offering a Creating and Leading High Performing Teams workshop through National Training Labs. Ultimately we led five of these workshops. We also involved Russ Forrester, who co-led the program with Allan well into the 2000s.

drexlerhistorysmall

This graphic is a composite of journal drawings over the years I worked with Allan on developing the Team Performance Model

The idea of integrating Allan’s model with Process Theory emerged in the process of designing that program for teams. I realized that the Gibb, Drexler, Weisbord Team Building Model mapped perfectly onto the first stages of Process Theory, in which I was immersed. I had a hunch that the Theory of Process would also describe what happens after a team forms. Allan had been using another model for contracting to describe this part of the process.

Aligning on Nomenclature

Allan loved dialogue, to which he brought a keen wit and the tenacity of a true New Yorker. We had ongoing and robust debate over every element of the emerging Team Performance Model, especially around nomenclature. For example, the word “commitment” is frequently used to represent a willingness to enter emotionally into a process or relationship. It also applies to the very bottom line kinds of commitments involved in contracts and joint ventures. We came to agree that we wanted the word “commitment” to reflect the more concrete aspects of financial, calendar and staff commitments—the essentials in getting real results. Likewise we chose the word “trust” to define the second stage when people are assessing “who” they are working with. A popular Tuchman model of teaming calls this stage “storming,” but we felt that pointing to trust was more universally useful.

Supporting Meaningful Conversations

The Model was developed hand in hand with an assessment tool we called the Team Performance Inventory, co-created with Russ Forrester, who had been trained in assessment work. Allan’s insight was that the real value of these tools was to initiate the right conversations on the team. He believed that that real teamwork developed through engagement and mutual understanding .He also knew from his long experience that people trust data and consider it “valid” if it comes from them, rather than from an outside observer. Because people’s answers to written questions are deeply embedded in their widely varying assumptions and interpretations, dialogue about what the assessment answers actually mean is the active catalyst for involvement.

As we developed the Inventory, we agreed that people would need indicators of the behaviors and characteristics for each of the seven stages—both for issues that have been successfully “resolved” and issues that remain “unresolved.” These indicators became the basis of the team assessments that were developed later.

The Team Leader Guide

In addition to the Model and the Inventory, we created a Team Leader Guide featuring a compilation of the best practices that The Grove and Allan had developed over the years. After gaining clarity about what was working and not working in their team, people were invited to try some new practices that addressed how they mutually agreed they would like to improve their team’s performance.

Grounded in Clear Agreements

As I reflect back on all I learned from Allan, I keep thinking about the care with which he would introduce these tools to clients. He believed strongly that creating a “social contract” with leaders and teams about what they hoped to accomplish was key to creating an environment for having truly deep discussions that could change behavior and performance. He would insist that team leaders be fully enrolled in the aim of creating a rich dialogue, while avoiding any kind of performance management in which people would be evaluated or disciplined as a result of taking the Inventory. Allan felt it was equally important to “contract” with the team itself about how they would approach taking the assessment and participating in a team improvement meeting. To this day the importance of these social contracts remains a feature in my own consulting, thanks to his coaching.

Because Allan lived on the East Coast and travel was always a feature of our collaboration, we eventually developed separate practices with these tools. He and his colleague Russ Forester went on to develop several additional tools, as did The Grove. We agreed to sustain the Model by consensus and not make changes to it without dialogue. Our achievement in that area is part of why the tools have become so widely used.

 

I am preparing to write a new book called Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change, potentially as a fourth in the Wiley visual leadership series. This one will be co-authored by The Grove’s VP of Global Learning, Gisela Wendling, Ph.D., an expert on personal and organizational transformation. It seems right that after so many changes in our own lives, that we focus now on our learning about change, and engage the exploding global network of visual practitioners about how to become skilled consultants with this orientation. Our leading of The Grove’s new Designing & Leading Change workshop the past two years is fueling this new project.

WileySeriesCovers - Preparing to Write—Visual Consulting

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I’m just back from Amsterdam doing some workshops with our Grove partners, Business Models, Inc. Gisela Wendling, The Grove’s Director of Global Learning, and I conducted a public workshop on Visualizing Change for 25 consultants and an internal workshop on Mental Models & Mindsets for BMI as the kickoff to their International Week. I want to share this experience of teaching systems thinking through drawing practice, which echoed my first meeting with Patrick Van Der Pijl, BMI’s founder, at a VizThink conference in Berlin 3-4 years ago.
MentalModelsChart - Business Models & Mental Models

 

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'75EarlySibbetPhoto - What's the Future of the Visual Facilitation Field?Recently I was interviewed by a bright, young reporter from Communication Arts about The Grove’s work in visual facilitation. “I’m talking to a lot of different people and really wanted to talk with you, an acknowledged leader in this field,” she said. “I want to get to some of the underlying theory and structure of what is happening.”

This opening triggered an immediate cascade of memories back to the 1970s when Interaction Associates, Geoff Ball, Fred Lakin, and I were on fire about Group Graphics, the future of technology, facilitation, and organizations. After all, we were in the curl of the massive wave of rethinking that all of my generation was doing about established institutions. Why not take on knowledge work and how we know what we know?

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