A conversation with Tyrome Smith, Principal Consultant at Go-In, LLC
“He’s written a book called Finding a Place to Stand, and in that book he talks about citizenship. And he says people join organizations, but they are citizens to institutions. And I’m completely fascinated by that idea because he writes that when you are a citizen, you show it very differently because it is something greater than yourself. When you are a member of an organization, you are bound by the tasks…But you join an institution as a citizen because you say that when we combine our organizational lives, the institution is greater. When the impact of the institution is greater, that’s when you become a citizen. And I think organizations have the capacity to create citizens.” -Tyrome Smith
In episode 15 of the Control the Room podcast, I am so pleased to be speaking with Tyrome Smith, Principal Consultant at Go-In, LLC. Tyrome has more than two decades of experience teaching senior leadership how to solve emerging issues in an ever-complex, rapidly changing world.
Tyrome and I speak about the BLM movement in relation to his background as a former police officer, the fear of irrelevance in the age of COVID, and how family dynamics leak into institutional structures. Listen in to find out to create space for people to create their own unique value for the greater good.
[2:15] The parallels of group dynamics between families & organizations
[14:07] Having a plan until you’re punched in the mouth
[16:18] BLM movement from the perspective of a former police officer
[27:54] The fear of irrelevance
[29:59] Human architecture
[38:11] Getting up and touching the walls
Links | Resources
About the Guest
Tyrome Smith is the Principal Consultant at Go-In, LLC. He says his work can be summarized in one simple quote – “engaging potential, creating possibilities.” For two decades, Tyrome has been working with senior leadership to adapt to and solve emerging, complex issues of the changing world.
Outside of his work at Go-In, LLC, Tyrome serves on the board of the AK Rice Institute, where he and the other board members multilayered complicated social systems.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a facilitation agency that helps teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Today, I’m with Tyrome Smith, principal consultant, at Go-In, LLC. The world is moving fast, Go-In can help you move faster. So excited to have you on the show today, Tyrome.
Tyrome: Thank you, sir. Good to be here.
Douglas: Excellent. So I guess for starters, I would love to hear how you got started in this work that you do.
Tyrome: So I’m from Pennsylvania. My father used to be a police officer. He retired from the Pennsylvania State Police. And so when I was a 1985 graduate from high school, I knew I was going to college. That summer I graduate, I worked at McDonald’s. Stank. The following summer. The police chief came to me and said, ‘hey, I’ve got a position.’ Very small town, by the way. ‘Got a position. You interested?’
Now I’m a track and field guy, for a very long time. I was a state champion runner and high school hurdler, as a matter of fact. And I was like, sure, because it kept me close to my dad. All right. It gave me a way to connect with him. I did that for about four years on and off through college. I’d got some leadership roles in undergraduate school and that introduced me to a different way of thinking about the world. I decided I didn’t want to do police work anymore. I started working with kids and I was utterly fascinated with what was happening with these children’s lives. Went to graduate school at Howard University in 1993 and I came in about halfway through the first year. So I came in the winter. They had no more money, so I needed to find a job. And I went to work with…because I had worked previously with kids, went to work in a psychiatric hospital, and I saw things in community meetings that I did not quite understand. And so that following, I think it was that following fall, I took a class with a professor, Dr. Leroy Wells. Brilliant man. PhD in organizational dynamics out of Yale.
And he did some stuff on the board. It was a class, a group dynamics course. And he did some stuff on the board that just blew my mind because it was the same kind of dynamics that he was describing. I was seeing every day when I was working with these kids and what I came to find out is that those basic systems that we are all born into, either healthy or unhealthy, known as our family, replicate themselves in organizations. And out of that. I started working with kids a little bit more, but I moved away from working with kids in about 2000, started working with organizations. And it was still the same dynamic that I was seeing working with those children in different formats, with their families in different formats, I was starting to see in organizations. Now, there’s a caveat to that, and that is I hate when people say, you know, we’re like a family here because my family might be screwed up and yours might be great. So we’re dealing with two different kinds of family systems.
But I understand why people want to do that, because they are using their group of note, the one that they grew up with. Out of that, I started dealing and working with more sophisticated organizations. I had an opportunity to work in New York City with a whole box office as a Vice President for Organizational Effectiveness over there for about a year and a half. And since then, about 2009, I’ve been working in the Department of Defense, in the intelligence community, working with senior leaders, helping them think about strategy, think about innovation, thinking about growth, thinking about what’s happening in the world, and how do they manage their organizational designs to execute against value. And that’s what I’ve been doing since, geez since 2009 with the same organization. It’s great. I’m having a ball. Even in the pandemic. Actually, our work is even more important now because of the pandemic than it was probably before the pandemic, because the world is changing. The director of our agency says that if we come back in…oh, God bless the creek don’t rise…in March of 2021 and we are doing the same things that we were doing in March of 2020, we will have lost. And so that’s where I come from.
Douglas: Incredible. It’s great to hear all of that. And, you know, as I listened and thought about just the impacts of COVID on organizational development and even just behavioral elements of teams trying to relate to one another and in meetings in general, much less now that we’re thrust in these new environments. So I’m curious what you’re seeing, what’s some low hanging fruit that people could start to think about. I’m sure there’s some little things that they can do if they can’t afford the big power, the big smart folks like yourself.
Tyrome: Yeah. Be present, which is probably the most difficult thing, to be present for one another. I’m working with a group right now of really smart people and one of the gentlemen that your audience may know, his name is Tristin Kromer. He wrote me and he said, you know what happens if I get somebody’s name wrong? If I mispronounce somebody’s name? Because this group that we’ve been working on has been looking at the Black Lives movement, race and racism, and we’ve been thinking about that. And he said, what do I do if I get- is that being racist? I was like, no, that’s not. What is being racist is when you’re not present to the other person’s experience, when you don’t acknowledge their humanity.
And if you look at the word human, the root word to human is hum, H-U-M, and hum in Latin means ground. It is ground. And so what greater gift could you give somebody else than to ground yourself in their experience? And so I think for not just leadership, but for each other to ground ourselves, empathy, whatever you want to call it, to ground ourselves in their experience, so we could be a gift to them is probably the best thing that we could do in my estimation, that we could do for one another, particularly during the pandemic, because we are…we have been dislocated. We’re like, we’re engines with…very powerful boats with no rudder. There’s a buddy of mine who was in the Air Force, he would kill me if he heard me say that, he was a Navy pilot. He said, we’re all thrust and no vector right now. We were just moving, but we have no way to vector our energy. And so we feel lost. We feel dislocated, we feel somewhat dispossessed. We don’t know where our jobs are anymore, where our values are anymore.
You know, the fact that people aren’t going someplace to go to work. I’m dealing with an organization right now, a member of the organization I consult to, and the leaders are yeah I have people who have been working in the same job for 30 years that are now displaced and they can’t go back into work. They are saying to themselves and to her, but I only know how to do work when I’m inside the building. I only know how to do my job when I’m inside the building. But she’s saying that the customers that we have don’t need our stuff from inside, they need to be able to create value. And you guys are valuable even when you’re not in the building. What can you do? ‘I don’t. I don’t. I can’t. I can’t do that.’ I mean, literally scared. And so I’m working with her to kind of rethink what does that mean to hold people in a space where they don’t have to feel fear, that they can still provide value, still move forward and do good work?
It’s important for each one of us to be present. I don’t have to make you feel good. You know, Amy Edmenson talks about psychological safety, bright woman. I’ve had an opportunity to sit down and talk to her and hear her lectures, and we brought her into my agency to do some work- I mean to lecture. The idea that you can provide a safe space will create trust, but you can’t ask somebody to trust you unless they feel safe. You know this. What is it? All dogs are animals. Not all animals are dogs. And so what can I do to help others feel safe? And I think that that’s the biggest thing that we can do for one another is just be present right now. And that doesn’t take, that doesn’t take anything else but a little bit of commonsense.
Douglas: I want to talk a little bit more about the humanity element of human and hum. And, you know, I think before the show started, we talked a little bit about our duty as citizens and how this work that we do could be applied in a much broader scope, in a more macro scope. So I’m curious to hear how you’re thinking about citizenship and then, you know, kind of being there for the broader community.
Tyorome: Thank you. I belong to an organization known as the AK Rice Institute. I’m on the board of that organization and the AK Rice Institute studies social systems, and one of the ways we study social systems is we go to that layer below how we would normally think about social systems. In other words, like who talks to who, when do we meet? But the layer below that is how do we understand each other? How do we, you know become a part of of each other’s lives, kind of an unconscious level. And one of my fellow directors is a psychiatrist. He’s written a book called Finding a Place to Stand.
And in that book, he talks about citizenship. And he says people join organizations, but they are citizens to institutions. And I’m completely fascinated by that idea because he writes that when you are a citizen, you show it very differently because it is something greater than yourself.
When you are a member of an organization, you are bound by the tasks. You are bound by the resources. You’re bound by your role of getting things done. But you join an institution, think United States, you join an institution as a citizen because you say that when we combine our institu- our organizational lives, the institution is greater. When the impact of the institution is greater, that’s when you become a citizen.
And I think that organizations have the capacity to create citizens. It’s when – institution, not organization, don’t want to mix up my metaphors. That institutions can create citizens. But they can’t do it without some kind of notion of where we’re going. Northstar, strategy, whatever you want to call it, that says when we combine our efforts, we will get to that place. And that’s when you can see people say, ‘oh, I now know how I work with you to create something greater than I individually can do.’ That’s when citizens show up.
Now, are all citizens the same? Well, the history of the United States would suggest no. But how do we create and claim citizenship? Sometimes it’s leaders being present. I hear you. I am here for you. I understand. I am selflessly putting myself in place so that I can marshal resources, so I can marshal ideas. Sometimes it’s citizens standing up for their place. I will be seen. I have an idea. If this is an organization, how do we create space for our corporate citizens to do the right thing?
The organization that I’m with now, the small team, nicely small, we’re…the agency is well over 10,000 people. But my team is five people big. Six, soon to be five, five people big. And we are saying to folks as they go out, ‘how do you create space to create innovation?’ Because right now they all get targeted for their- we would know this, their KPIs are how many things that you produce, not how much value did you create. And good leaders can create space for people to create value because good citizens find value. They understand what is valuable, what will create value for the greater good versus just for me.
People belong to organizations, make sure that the trains run on time but have no concept of why the trains are running.
Douglas: It makes me think that it really is about purpose and and what brings us all together.
Tyrome: Yeah, I think purposes is completely underrated. Why are we here? You know, Simon Sinek talks about start with why.
During our training, we ask people to identify problems. We say ‘ask as many, identify your problems and interrogate that problem by asking why as many times as you can.’ And people have difficulty because they want to go to the how and the what. They have difficulty identifying the why. And I think institutions help people to identify the why. But institutions can be..can lose their way, become organizations. Does that make sense what I’m saying?
Douglas: Absolutely. So organizations that want to behave more like institutions or maybe want to attract that institutional…those elements. What are some of the things that they can think about?
Tyrome: Yeah, I think those are the organizations that have the capacity to interrogate their own value, but that takes very, very sophisticated leadership, selfless leadership, ones who are saying, ‘but are we in a position that we want to be? ‘
Ones that…Steve Blank says,he wrote a very similar article, maybe some of your audience may have read it. H.B article so I think it’s titled. The proper title is Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything.
And then he says, he quotes that pugilist philosopher Mike Tyson that says everybody has a plan until they punched in the mouth. Right. And for me, it’s the institutions that can bounce back from the punch in the mouth. It’s like oh! Don’t do that again. Now, pivot. The arrogant institutions, the ones that don’t learn…and maybe that’s where I’m going, the ones that can attract are the ones that are learned for, that have an intention to learn. The ones who get punched out and say, oh, don’t do that again. The ones that will continue to be organizations will be the ones that will say, yeah, but we’re still going to go this way because that’s where we say we’re going to. And I’m right. And I know that that’s right. I was just listening to another podcast the other day, and this is what I think it was Dwight wrote the big shift in about 2010 and it keeps coming up that those organizations that used to be the bluechip top 50+ that were the Mobiles of the world, the G.E.’s of the world, they have been delisted off the bluechip, and now the blue chip ones are the ones that are constantly in an effort to understand their environment.
Douglas: Tyrome,I’m really curious, you know, given all this work that you’re doing with organizations and understanding how to help them innovate, help them move past big roadblocks or incumbents, that might be kind of hard to move past or, you know, upstarts that are challenging the status quo. And you’re very familiar with an institution that is challenged at the moment. You know, you mentioned Black Lives Matter earlier and the police are getting, you know, calls for being defunded, et cetera. I’m curious, as someone who’s gone through that institution, knows what it’s like, what the needs are, the good that it can do. I’m curious where your thoughts are as you apply the work you do through the lens of the change that needs to happen there.
Tyrome: As a son of a police officer. As a former police officer for a while. As the brother of somebody who’s been in law enforcement in the United States military, I recognize that it is an institution that is much older than anything that I think folks could really understand. The history of policing, the history of policing goes back to the slave catchers.
They would go in. They were legally able to go back and recapture slaves. All the way up to, you know, to now. Right. The ethic of what policing was to do. It was a service to go back and execute against laws that were out there. Now, having been on that side. I recognize that there are laws and that you need people to help execute those laws, that you need people to help enforce those laws because it is for the part of society.
The book that I offered up before, Finding his Place to Stand…my psychiatrist colleague, he’s 78 years old. And he said one time, he said as a result of what was going on with the Black Lives Matter, with policing, he said, I am…one of the things that he said that just struck me, struck me dead square in the chest, he said ‘as a 78 year old white man, I am ashamed that I didn’t realize that police in policing was there to protect my community from those others.’ And that’s a powerful statement as far as I’m concerned.
That’s a powerful indictment about how we’ve constructed this thing known as policing. So a long time ago. Full stop. A long time ago, I thought, could I use what I’ve learned about organizations, about the lives of organizations to help police officers rethink how they do community policing? I never explored it because it wasn’t quite the right time. But now, as I’m talking to you, it brings me to the point where I’m like, maybe I really need to go back and rethink what that would look like to go back and help police officers rethink about what it means to be a community police officer. How do I integrate and utilize my authority in a way that it is to add to the lives of the community and not “detract” – big air quotes – “detract” from the lives of the community, so people see me as somebody who is a helpmate and not somebody who is a oppressor.
The stories about policing, at least in the black community, are old. You can go back and listen to some of the songs from the Harlem Renaissance. You can go back and listen to the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. And they were talking about brutality. Way back there. And so it is a hard problem. It is a institutional problem. It is not an organizational problem. It’s not about the police. It’s about the institution of policing inside the larger institution of America. And I think the work that I do to help people solve these hard problems, to ask the problem to be solved is possible. You can actually do some brilliant work. I’ve seen people do brilliant work and come to some realizations and change their minds by asking these very simple, and I mean truly simple…I’ve thought about starting a podcast and my podcast- the title of the podcast was Hmm, Can I Ask You a Question? Because I believe simple questions lead to complex insights.
Douglas: Yeah, let’s unpack that a little bit, because I do feel like questions are the facilitator’s superpower. So what are some of your favorite questions or the questions that you find typically will lead to some of these complex insights?
Tyrome: So when we work with…my colleagues and I, when we work with organizations, we’re trying to help them create a product, rethink a process, maybe even to the point of doing a reorganization. This is my everyday life. We ask for- and I just, we just developed a fifth question.
And the questions go, what problem you solving? Just plainly. What problem you try to solve? For whom are you trying to solve that problem? To do what to solve that problem? How will you know that you’re on the way to solving the problem? And what’s the one thing that the problem would really, really get to?
And the reason why we got to this fifth one, the first one we’ve been asking for a long time, but apparently- and a colleague of mine found this really interesting video about rowing a boat. It was the British. I think it was the ‘88 games. The ‘88 games. They were. The guy won. They won. The British won a gold medal. They had not won anything. And they kept their eye on the one thing that matters. And it was, will it make the boat go faster? Right. Will it make the bo- How do we cut our hair? How do we train? How do we pray? How do we get in the boat? How- what kind of shoes do we wear? What’s our dinner like? You know, how do we manage our home life? Will it make the boat go faster?
And so those are our five. What problem are you trying to solve? For whom to do what? How will you know? And what’s that one thing that will make it better? What’s that North Star that you’re looking at?
Douglas: I love this notion of the one thing, you know. I think it gets to the core of the essence of the problem. And so many meetings, so many gatherings, so many times when we come together to make a decision or to do some good work, if we’re not clear on that. That’s what can lead to all the circular conversation or these side chats. And, you know, this stuff that just slows is down. And I was thinking about a story you told about your own, the boat faster. And it immediately conjured up this image of, like, arguing over if they should enter the boat in some certain way or what color they should paint the boat. And all this stuff, it really helps you realize that wait a second. Our purpose is to make the boat go faster. The color is not going to matter. I’m not going to…I don’t really have much of a fight. There’s no reason to like, to spend too much time on this decision.
Tyrome: Let’s unpack that boat going faster thing. Right. So the color of the boat may not matter, but it’s the joining of the team that gets to the color of the boat that does matter to make the boat go faster. You feel me?
Douglas: Yes, absolutely.
Tyrome: It’s about can we join in a way that we are able to work? My colleagues and I that I work with, we believe that no matter how you show up to work with whoever you show up, if you show up to do the work, you can be there. To my colleagues, straight white men with children, we’re going out to do some diversity work. They asked me how are we going to do diversity work? Because we’re two straight white men with kids, I’m like yeah, just show up. Coming together. So they asked me as a- and I’m older than both of them…as an older black man, straight black man with two kids. Help us get together because we don’t know if we’ll be able to do the work. Can you help us? Not giving them permission, but can you help us think through it? Because I didn’t give them permission. The only thing I give them permission to do was to be themselves, which they didn’t need permission from me to do that. They just needed to show up and do the work. But our ability to collaborate across the boundary of our differences makes our team that much stronger.
That happened well over a year ago. And that team, except for one who got a really good job and went off and left us, that team is still together. And because we had the capacity to be honest with each other, what we call radical candor, and ask good questions and investigate each other’s purposes. Man, you talk about a highly functioning team, but when you have a team that can’t even come together, say, you know what? To your point, that’s ‘whatever, that doesn’t even matter’ what you’re talking about but can’t have the conversation about ‘that doesn’t even matter’ and not get pissed off at one another and say that this is a part of our getting together and doing good work. So when we have to find that and work on that thing that’s super important, we know what we need to do.
So the team comes together, says the boat should be painted his way. I don’t agree. Well, let’s talk about it. Let’s figure it out. That’s wonderful. OK, we figured it out. Now, that team that gets in that boat that won, the coxswain says pull harder. Do this. Everybody knows exactly what that means. There is no- and I don’t even know what…I know the coxswain just yells at the rowers and yells something and they just pull harder. But the coxswain is now in that boat. And that team knows because it’s for the good of the boat, it’s for the good of the team, we will make this happen. And there is no argument.
The same thing happens…one of my colleagues is former Special Operations and my brother is as well. When you are six-deep and you are miles from anybody else that can provide support, and the only person you have to depend on is the other five dudes on your team, you dadgum sure better make sure that you can come to some coherent about what we’re here to do, because if you don’t, that’s life and death. That’s not just what are we going to eat tomorrow for lunch.
Douglas: Yeah. You know, I think there is a lot of interesting ritual in training for special operations around trust in your fellow officers and…because when it comes down to in the moment, it’s life or death. I mean, that’s ultimate trust, right? Like, we can’t have any micro kind of guesses or take a moment to be like, ‘well maybe.’ It’s like, no, you’ve got to be 100 percent.
Tyrome: I’m curious about this idea of ritual and which rituals do we keep and which rituals do we let go of?
Douglas: That’s right. Which ones serve us and which ones get in our way? And here’s the thing. I think you were talking about organizations that reinvent themselves versus the ones that are just, you know, maybe overly dogmatic and can’t let go because maybe something served them for years and years and years. And I think that’s the ritual that stifles us. But when we can create ritual that is adaptable, we can move beyond it. I’ll also, I would argue, meta rituals too. Like rituals that are designed to be flexible by nature.
Tyrome: Yeah, yeah. And as you’re saying it, the power of ritual is to help us manage transition and uncertainty. Right. That’s why we have ritual. That’s why people salute- new military, they salute people. Because it helps us to manage the transition from an uncertain place to an uncertain place. An uncertainty is a certainty. And so I don’t know what’s going on, but at least I have this to stand on.
Douglas: It’s their bedrock.
Tyrome: This makes sense. Exactly. Exactly. But I love your idea that if your rituals aren’t adaptive to the context in which they live, you are at risk.
Douglas: And the context is ever evolving, right? So we don’t know what it’ll be like tomorrow or the day after.
Tyrome: Absolutely. I think that folks who say, ‘I don’t recognize this, this doesn’t make any sense to me…’ There’s a sense of the dinosaur. I don’t want to be that…I don’t want to be that cavalier. But it’s…are you paying attention to what’s happening around you? And if you’re not paying attention to what’s happening around you, are you going to be around to influence it and to survive in it? And it doesn’t mean that you don’t continue some of the things that give you solve and comfort, right? But you need to be able to say ‘this doesn’t, this is no longer in the service of the work of us accomplishing the task.’
There are stories about when people walk into manufacturing facilities and they, you know they’ll Lean Six Sigma when they try to do agile and they say- why are you doing it? ‘Well, that’s just how we do it.’ What would happen if you cut that out? ‘Well, uhhhhh uhhhh I don’t know.’ I would submit to you that it has two pieces. One, there’s a technical piece to it. ‘I don’t know,’ because they really don’t know. They never took it out. But the other part is an unconscious and kind of meta, which is ‘but if you cut that out, I don’t have any more value. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing now.’ And I think that freaks people out even more. I think it’s- as a matter of fact, I think that that’s the bane of what we see as society today, is that if I am no longer in that space and am I important? That is scary.
Douglas: Yeah, it’s that fear of irrelevance.
Tyrome: Oh, my God, yeah. Yeah. And if I am irrelevant, am I important? Do I really exist? I mean this is existential stuff. I mean, I get it. But having people rethink their value, I think is the purview of good facilitation. It’s the purview of good consultation. It’s the purview of good coaching. Right? Helping people recenter and find themselves in terms of value. How they create value. That’s an incredible piece of work if you can do that for folks.
Douglas: Yeah. And, you know, I think it’s maybe not only helping people become reflective of their own value, but also providing space where people can provide value outside of the thinly drawn lines that you’ve carved out for them to create value.
So if we open it up and we say we’ve truly become inclusive…people talk about diversity, inclusion. But if we were to be truly inclusive, then we’re allowing people to color outside the lines and to provide value in ways that we never anticipated. And then therefore, they see the road to providing more value, even if their current value is disrupted.
Tyrome: It’s interesting that Dug, that you say this because in the training we do, we talk about Frank Gehry, you know, follow up with the first idea. And we use the example of the Weatherhead School at Case Western University and this looks like just a plop of steel and glass and brick and how he came to that. And so not so much about Gehry, but about architecture. All right. How do we create architectures, human architectures that people can find space to exist?
I’m not an architecture student, but I’m fascinated by this idea of creating, architecting, designing space so people can find space. And I think that our institutional architectures are so rigid because of ritual, are so rigid that when people ask for space, the institutions rebel against space. Now, if you follow the line of this conversation, that’s followed back about 10 minutes and that’s what policing does. Policing manages space. Because if you don’t stay within your space. I have, Ty Smith, my dad Eugene Smith, have arrested people and taken to jail because they violated the space, the architecture, the social architectures of the institution. And I think what good leadership does, what good facilitation can do is help people to explore and interrogate that space so people can find space, find their own space and say, I belong here, too. Now, the question then becomes, do people…do those who constructed the space want other people to be included in the space? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Douglas: Yeah, that’s the thing I think is to make that shift between just having minions versus having citizens like you’re talking about, making sure that when we look at the space we’ve created, that we give people the opportunity to self identify as to how they exist and to how they bring their best selves to the space. You know, it’s interesting when I think of facilitation as a meta role where leaders start to adopt facilitated leadership styles. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. I love this notion of making constituents feel more like citizens. I love this idea of like, shaping space. You know, we may take the raw space that we already have allocated and we might carve it up in interesting ways. We may ask our citizens to help us make sense of the space so that we can carve it up and we can co create the decorations for that space so it’s more inviting, it’s better for- easier for them to understand. I love how this conversation was not very facilitator focused, but there’s so many themes that apply to facilitation that is very clear to me.
Tyrome: So it’s interesting you say that Dug, because the metaphor then applies. I think that what you’re offering up, the metaphor of the facilitator is architect, right?
Douglas: Mhm, yes. In fact, the facilitators are the architects of the meetings. They’re also the producer and the constructor or they’re in the meeting live. But they have to plan. I would say 90 percent of facilitators’ job is the upfront work before the meeting happens. And, you know, we have this belief at Voltage Control, that, you know, whether you call yourself a facilitator or not or you have facilitator in your title, if you invite people to a meeting and you’re hosting that meeting, you are facilitating that meeting. Whether or not you’re intentional about it or whether or not you’re applying any craft to it, you’re still facilitating. And so our wish, our goal is that everyone starts to understand that more deeply amd meetings in general, become more pleasant to attend and more productive.
Tyrome: Let me turn it back on you just a bit. So if that is the case that you’re architecting these experiences, what is the role of the facilitator in these architected experiences to help people find their authentic and authorized voice?
Douglas: Yeah. Well, you know, it starts with purpose and intention. You know, you talked about necessity of purpose. So step one is realizing it’s necessary, you know? Because if we don’t realize it’s necessary, we certainly don’t plan in ways to do it. And then I think that then we plan on ways to do it. And, you know, I would be curious about how you approach it. But, you know, the first thing that comes to mind for me is co creation is such a powerful tool. Like if people come together to bring their- they’re truly bringing their thoughts to the table, then that’s how they can tap into what’s authentic for them.
Tyrome: The requirements that I have whenever I help facilitate…and it’s funny because there is a curious blend of experience and professional space that is training, facilitation, consultation and coaching and differentiating all four of those that happened for me at one time. It is not very clean. It is like Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do where you take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a little bit of that and you flow like water and you find people where they are. I think for me that is, I think there’s- in fact, I know based on the training I have about group relations, you manage the boundary, time, task and territory, like what are we here to do? And the answer is in the room. And you’re helping people discover that. The answer is always in the room. That they’ve come to this space, the sacred time, space, location to do some work and the work is in here. My task is to help them discover, to co-create. In a process of discovery, they ‘go holy…That was real. What the hell just happened? Something happened in that room that I want to get back to.’
I know I’m always successful in a true facilitation when people go, they’ll come to me a year later and they’re like ‘you know, that thing that we talked about? I went home and I talked about it with my husband. It changed my life with my spouse. It changed my life with my wife. It helped me have a different kind of conversation. I don’t, and it would- it could have been about how to build a bridge, you know, but the way that we got to that space of how to build a bridge and asking real questions, that the architecting of the experience helped people really think about themselves and their relationships differently.
Douglas: I think that’s beautiful. You know, whenever we can truly tap into something authentic and something personal when they bring it into their personal lives. Because the reason they do that is because it feels natural, right? Because they are already tapped into that space. So they…honestly, I think that’s where were the real work happen.
When we can get people into that feeling of being human, they’re going to do amazing work. And, you know, I think there’s a really awesome…there’s so many tactics and ways to do this. But I don’t know if you have some some favorite tools, but one of the tools that I’m a big fan of is authentic relating. I think that we really want people to tap into who they are and to connect with people on that level. Using some of those games and tools can be a nice way to prime them before we get into some more specific work around, here’s this problem we’re trying to solve. Well, let’s get him in the mindset first and then flow into the work.
Tyrome: It’s interesting. When I did a lot more, we’re talking…my oldest boy is 17 now. And so 15 years ago, I used to do a lot more stuff when I would have, you know, games and this- and it’s powerful and it works. I am always curious about how the people that I work with, because I get a chance to work with senior leaders in organizations about this stuff, would they be willing to play games? And games are truly important, I mean, don’t get me wrong. For me in the moment, I do the work with them about the thing they came to do. This may sound harsh, but I punch him right in the face with it in a loving, caring way that is like, what are you really trying to do? Because what I heard was this.
And part of it is my training and this idea of group relations and how we do our work, how I’ve been trained to do the work over the last twenty five years and blah blah blah, but really getting people to be hyper focused and go to where their affect and their intellect meet. Now, that might be in terms of getting them to write, getting them up on the board, getting them to talk, getting them to move. I will say this, it is not that I don’t trust games because I do trust games. For me, it’s more important to get up and touch the walls, touch the walls, get up out of your seat. Move your body. Find yourself in space. Where are you in space? Because where you stand and who you stand next to and how close you stand to the task that we’re supposed to, and literally how close do you stand to the work that if it’s on the wall, how close do you stand to that? It’s telling about your relationship to what you’re trying to do. So the games for me and the activities like that is about helping people create relationship to one another and relationship to the work. How close do you really, really want to get to doing this hard stuff?
It’s funny. Ten years ago, I did an offsite punch of senior leaders and I said to them…I don’t even remember what they were working on, but I do remember that I said to them, ‘be prepared to do the hard work of the soft stuff.’ Because it’s that soft relational work that people dread.
Douglas: Yeah I mean earlier, you talked about how people struggle with purpose so much and I think it’s because it’s softer, it’s squishier. It’s like, comes from the heart, not from the from the muscles, you know.
Tyrome: Amen. Amen. And now this is a horrible metric, but when we’re doing, like, diversity work and if nobody cries, that means they ain’t doing the work. That’s a horrible metric.
I’ve been thinking about that rolling around the back of my head. But I offer it up because if you are intending to do work around race and all of the impactful stuff that go along with race or if you raise it up not so close, but maybe it’s even a product that you’ve spent your life’s work on, that you have become the professional. And somebody says, ‘I love you. You’re a great human being. But that product doesn’t exist anymore. It doesn’t- we don’t need it anymore.’ And if people can’t connect that, you know, we will say, you know, you are not your job.
But that is almost impossible. Right. Your limbic system won’t disconnect from your neocortical system, your thinking system. And so when you have gotten it down, you know, the whole work on behavioral economics and how people are incredibly tied to what and who they are and how it makes them feel. If you come along, your director comes along and says- the director of your organization says ‘nah, we’re out of that business’ and you don’t feel something…you don’t know what that means or your business is at risk and you don’t feel something, you don’t go “well okay, then we’ll just figure it out. I’ll just move on.” I’m not buying it. We can’t do it. We’re human beings.
Douglas: Tyrome, I couldn’t agree more. You know, I once heard- I can’t remember who to attribute the quote to, but it was something along the lines of ‘a man will never admit a truth if the truth would jeopardize their livelihood.’ So there are things that we’re going to hold steadfast even in the face of evidence that the contrary is true. And it’s so important to face those things head on. And, you know, and getting teams to a place where they can dive into the work and, you know, it’s like where are those unspeakables that we need to embrace?
And so it’s been really fun chatting today. I love that we touched on so many things related to facilitation that facilitators can kind of chew on at a almost metal level. This notion of people being citizens and how can we elevate their status so that they feel like they’re part of something- of a whole, that they’re potentially even creating this thing that’s bigger than themselves and how we can be aligned in purpose. Really amazing stuff. I love the work that you’re doing. I’m sure our listeners are gonna want to know how to reach out to you, how to connect. Tell us how they can find you.
Tyrome: It’s super simple. I’ve been so busy over the last five years that even with Go-In, which stands for government transformation through innovation, Go-In. Right. Government innovation. That’s my presence. But it’s very simple. It’s govtinnovation. All one word. govtinnovation, all one word, @gmail.com [firstname.lastname@example.org]. Very simple. Let’s talk.
Douglas: Excellent. Yeah. Shoot him an email, reach out. And Tyrome, It’s been great chatting with you. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Tyrome: Thank you, Dug. Appreciate you.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together. Voltagecontrol.com.