Bonding and Bridging at the Philosophical Breakfast Club

On 26 April 2018, I presented at the ‘Philosophical Breakfast Club’ () conference on High Performing Teams (). It was a remarkable conference bringing together healthcare professionals, psychologists, sports scientists, athletes, managers, human factors/ergonomics specialists, military officers and specialists, and others, My first conversation while having tea before the conference was with a spinal surgeon and bomb disposal expert. Throughout the conference I had many other fascinating conversations with people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

This leads me to the focus of my talk: collaboration at the interfaces, and what happens between teams, groups, professions, layers of management, organisations…  In this post, I summarise the talk, slide by slide, with tweet-sized explanations.

This is a talk on bonding and bridging. It is about what happens with and between groups. I draw on my and my colleagues’ experience in over 30 countries over 10 years understanding groups and organisations psychometrically and ethnographically. 1/.


This infographic from  Issue 26 shows the scale and interconnectedness of the European air traffic management system. Many sources of data show how ATC is an very safe part of an ultra safe industry – commercial aviation. 2/


Air traffic controllers and others routinely state that teamwork is something they value most in creating safety, and they nearly always rate it very positively. Where problems do occur – as in all industries and organisations – tend to relate to interfaces between groups. 3/


Here is a small example. A new ATC centre was built and, during discussions, it emerged that there were now communication issues between controllers and engineers. In the old centre, controllers had to pass through the engineers’ coffee area. The new centre designed this out. 4/


In another example, problematic relations between two operational groups reached crisis point after a serious incident occurred, when blame turned inward between groups. There wasn’t sufficient trust and openness to cope with the outfall of the event. This had to be worked on reparatively. 5/


Another example involved inadequate coordination between an airport and ATC tower. The airport mandated a new procedure that increased ATC workload significantly and unsustainably. The impact was not understood. Other problems have involved procedures mandated by safety departments, with unintended consequences. 6/


Very few accidents are associated with ATC. One of the few occurred in 2002 in Überlingen over southern Germany. It involved problems of coordination and communication between engineering and ATC, as well as management, and the whole aviation system. 7/


This is a figure from the EUROCONTROL White Paper on Safety-I and Safety-II. To cope with especially problematic circumstances, incidents, emergencies, and the aftermath of accidents, we need to pay attention to collaboration during everyday work, and learn from ‘the best of what is’. 8/


It can seem that the design of organisations gets in the way of collaboration. We organise via ‘Divisions’ and ‘Departments’ (which, from the old French, means the same). Our org charts don’t show the demand or need for services, nor the customer, nor the flow of work and comms. 9/


The siloisation of work extends to all levels. This figure shows a slightly adapted ActorMap template (Rasmussen), which can be used to map interactions, and in conjunction with AcciMaps to understand issues at the interfaces.10/


The question is, where is the boundary of the sociotechnical system that you are interested in? We need to appreciate systems theory in order to understand teamwork and collaboration. Teams exist within a much larger interconnected network. (Beer – also part of a eco-consumer system [courtesy of Black Isle Beer].) 11/


So let’s turn to the work that we do, and how we imagine others work 12/


We understand the work that we do. It is hard to understand from afar, because it is complex and messy. It is characterised by variability, adjustments, adaptation and trade-offs between goals (efficiency-thoroughness, acute-chronic, tasks-relationships, etc). 13/


But when we imagine the work of others, our imagination of the work is vastly simplified and wrong in important ways. While work-as-done is dynamic, our imaginations are static. We all have a different image of others’ work. And they are all wrong. 14/


Many people, when reflecting on others’ imaginations of their work – expressed in artefacts such as policies, procedures, diktats, equipment, etc – describe two different worlds. We live in a state of Ignorance and Fantasy of others’ work. 15/


The relationship between work-as-imagined and work-as-done was the theme of  Issue 25 (free). It includes articles by professors of safety and human factors, controllers, pilots, and some clinicians. 16/


Erik Hollnagel made a distinction between egocentric and allocentric work-as-imagined. The former refers to our imagination of our (current and future) work. The latter refers to imagination of others’ work. The two have very different feedback loops. 17/


Within close knit groups, we are close to others’ work, and we tend to do similar kinds of jobs. So we can more easily imagine others’ work. We also form trust and reciprocity through our interactions – bonding social capital. 18/


Between groups – professions, teams, organisations – it is not so easy. It is hard to see and understand what others do, or why they do it (in the way they do it). We often lack trust and reciprocity. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t see. We lack bridging social capital. 19/


The issue of Safety at the Interfaces was the theme of  Issue 26. Here we explored interfaces between groups within aviation, as well as healthcare () WebOps () and communities (). 20/


Some lessons that have struck me really strongly over the last few years have come from seeking to understand how communities work. It seems rare that organisations and professions try to understand communities, and yet there is much to be learned. 21/


One strand of practice is known as Asset Based Community Development – . ABCD is an approach to understanding and developing communities from the inside based on that they have – assets – instead of what (we imagine) they don’t have – deficiencies. It starts with assets. 22/


A major figure in has been John McKnight. He has worked in activist organizations and civil rights agencies, and learned the Alinsky approach to community organizing. He created a new Department at Northwestern University, to support urban change agents. 23/


Another major figure in community development has been Peter Block, known for work on organization development, community building, and civic engagement. He works on building the capacity of community to value its gifts and see its own possibility. 24/


I’m grateful to have been introduced to ABCD, and its history, via Cormac Russell (). He has worked with communities in over 30 countries and has brought ABCD to many via . Cormac is a faculty member of the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University. 25/


One of the many insights from concerns boundaries and invitation. What are the boundaries of our groups? Is there an invitation at the edge? 26/


John McKnight recalled to Cormac Russell a story about John’s ‘County Labrador Retriever Owner Association’, where people and their Labrador dogs got together. One day, someone with a beautiful German Shepherd approached the group. But it wasn’t a Labrador. It illustrated something about the often arbitrary boundaries that we create and maintain. 27/


Boundaries between groups vary in nature. They can be situational, perhaps involving time or place. They can be physical, like a redesigned building that separates groups. They can be more personal, professional and social. Or they can be built into organisations and systems. 28/


Whatever kind of boundary it is that separates groups, it defines who is in, and who is out. It is usually clear to everyone on which side of the fence they are on, even though it may never be stated (see this interview in #HindSightMagazine Issue 26 with .). 29/


Here is the challenge. Whether we think about our organisation, profession, group, team, association, community… “How can we keep expanding the limits of our hospitality. Our willingness to welcome strangers.” ‘Outsiders’ don’t dilute our group. They invigorate it. 30/


Another key aspect of is about mindset. Communities – and people in organisations – are often seen through a deficit lens. So people are defined in terms of (imagined) needs. This is the wrong way to look and the wrong place to start. We need to start with their assets. This is also a way of thinking that resonates with Safety-II. 31/


It is valuable to discover the gifts, skills and passions of our fellows. What are they naturally good at – something their mother might point out? What have they learned as a skill? What are they passionate about? And how can we get these connected up between people? 32/


We want to increase participation in organisations and communities, and between the two. “Community building is about getting the greatest number of contributions by the greatest number of people” (from Looking Back to Look Forward). 33/


I think that this participation requires three things. The first is contribution or capability. We all have something to contribute, but this needs to be discovered. The second is the opportunity to show up and contribute. The third is the motivation or desire to do so. 34/


Increasing the diversity of contributions counters our ‘déformation professionnelle‘ – our tendency to look at things from our limited professional perspective. It also increases the quality of ideas and allows ’emergent expertise’ to emerge from our interactions. 35/


In getting our gifts, skills and passions connected, and in increasing participation from the greatest number of people, you don’t start at the centre. You start at the edge. This is a profound insight from with implications for organisations and professions, too. 36/


A final insight I’d like to draw from for the purposes of this thread concerns connection. We all have a role to play in getting people’s gifts, skills and passions connected, but we can learn from some people with particular roles or ways of being. 37/


In my podcast conversation with Cormac Russell, he highlighted four roles. Leaders crystallise issues that people can gather around, and develop followers. Networkers develop their network and may bring people together, but do so more opportunistically. Gappers link together functions and people at the edges or boundaries. Connectors connect in a special and natural way. 38/


You may have met neighbours/colleagues who are like this. They are well connected, see the best of others, are trusted & create trust. They believe in community & move around comfortably between different groups. They get joy from connecting people. They’ve no other agenda. They are connectors. 39/


You can listen to/read the whole discussion with Cormac Russell here.  40/


Asset-Based Community Development has affected my practice in some quite important ways. I routinely try to integrate and Safety-II insight into safety, which is notoriously deficit-based, and organisational work more generally. How might you start discussions, observations, etc, on an asset footing? 41/

Here are couple of Editorials on the theme of this thread, from Issue 25 and Issue 26. 42/


And that’s a wrap. It took longer than I imagined…but hopefully was helpful. Thanks for reading/listening. 43/43


Author: stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Dr Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.

One thought

  1. Dear Steven Shorrock,

    Thank you for a very interesting and helpful post! I have been invited to present at a conference later this year to interdependent, interdisciplinary responders and community members engaged in a future mass casualty incident. Your writings and talk will very likely directly contribute in several important ways.

    Warm regards from Tucson, Arizona, David A. Christenson CEO Christenson & Associates, LLC


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