Lindsay’s In Business: PART 64: We are beginning to see patterns

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What happens when you realise your path is entrepreneurship rather than employment? Lindsay takes up the challenge and shares an account of her journey as it unfolds…

It’s fascinating to discover that now, having some good experience, we are starting to see a pattern with the outcomes of Mirror Mirror. Having taken a step back over Xmas, a pattern is emerging. There usually is a core alignment issue at play within organizations that blocks effectiveness.  If you can spot that issue and start to unravel it, as we do, then other linked issues fall away. This means that while it can feel as if there are multiple problems going on that are difficult to track down and deal with, it may not be so chaotic.

One of our clients work in an ambitiously challenging set up. Staff from 27 nations are based in 8 countries within a matrix reporting structure; teams are self-managed, and projects are short-term and cross-functional. If managed well, this kind of organizational set up represents the best of modern thinking about empowerment in action. If not, this makes for a host of co-ordination and alignment issues. The HR Director was determined to keep steering it to the former.

We found that underneath all of the insights about pride and commitment, overwork and a lack of strategic clarity, was a core alignment issue around the definition of what ‘self-managed’ meant in practice. The Management Team wanted to empower all teams to self-manage through devolved responsibility. People in those teams were embracing this responsibility and the culture of hard work and commitment but largely felt unable to prioritise without guidance. After a time, energy and motivation was replaced by fatigue and disappointment. An ‘us and them’ situation took hold and whole bunch of peripheral issues and complaints fogged the view.

We gathered the Mirror Mirror survey data and ran a face-to-face all-staff day offsite. Back in plenary towards the end of the day, the issue came up and the CEO suggested that planning discussions between management and teams were established. These would allow all parties to agree priorities and expectations up front. Adding this clarification step into the mix would unravel the multiple complaints and concerns that had become so overwhelming, such as work overload, lack of strategic clarity, and the inability to review and plan properly.

It’s easy to assume that people are aligned but in today’s VUCA organizations it’s far more likely that they are seeing and doing things differently. If not addressed this, like an invisible virus, affects collective focus and performance. The problem in the past has been a lack of specific tools with which to approach this. Mirror Mirror is based on research and shows that the way people interact in teams (behaviours), determines how much of a common understanding they have about the challenges they face together (shared cognition). It goes on to show that both behaviours and shared cognition control team effectiveness. In other words, we enable people in organizations to step back and clear the fog, safely and constructively.

We had another client with a team whose understanding of their central, shared goal were imperceptibly different: “Our goal is to translate idea A to context B”, vs “Our goal is to see how idea A needs to change in context B” vs “Our goal is to assess how context A differs from context B for the purposes of doing X.”  Do they need to keep idea A or change it? Are they implementing, assessing, or assessing and planning?  No doubt the team would have come across these contradicting directions fairly soon, but for a full-time innovation team, what is the cost of 2 – 3 weeks’ misalignment?

Because people hear what they want to hear – or hear what makes sense to them – it transpired that conversations between the team members were being held at cross-purposes on an ongoing basis.  It seems ridiculous that such a misunderstanding could happen – but it does, and we were able to dissolve this the issue early on.

Another client had a team paralysed by the fear of redundancy but managers weren’t aware. The Team Leader had assured the team that when half of their workload fell out of the portfolio, that there would be no redundancies. He was waiting for approval to move ahead with other new projects but they were taking time.

Team members were sceptical. It didn’t make sense. They didn’t feel they were being lied to but at the same time, their own version of the truth. They believed that inevitably team numbers must reduce and so that became the accepted reality.

This core alignment issue was expressed in many ways: feelings of low morale, complaints about lack of training and personal development, comments about work becoming routine and boring, as sense of hopelessness. One member of the team found another job.

The long-awaited new projects, their size and potential to become a huge new part of the team’s portfolio, had either not been communicated in a way that hit home or had not been heard with open ears. Either way, Mirror Mirror gave the team the opportunity to step back and understand the possibilities together.

Mirror Mirror – … because a collective focus, with each team at the centre, drives performance.

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