One of the most incredible experiences a person can get from working in an organisation is to learn from others. I believe so because learning is amplified due to the multiplier effect we get; the more people and more topics to speak about, the more^2 knowledge you tap into. This article is about how I overcame the challenge of coming to a conclusion amidst a sea of different opinions.

No copy-paste available

From day 1, living in a cosmopolitan city like Manchester exposed me to people from different cultures and mindsets. Consequently, I got to see how different working styles can be and how the culture in a professional setting differed from India. It was fun; however, it took quite some time to get used to it. Within this period, a few challenges were creed up, and the biggest of them all was the fact that there were no copy-and-paste type solutions for everyday challenges. I struggled to find my niche in managing work and collaborating with others. What worked in the past didn’t apply here. How much of a push can I give? What style of working would suit all? What is others’ attitude towards work because there isn’t one unifying culture for all? – I probed all these questions when I had spare time. And my quest to find answers began.

The COBRA situation goes in circles

What gets managers and leaders through such situations is to be strong at the fundaments of being a human. I realised this the hard way during a meeting with my team. One day, we had to go into a fire-fighting situation. The group convened, and we had to uncover the issues and resolve the problems in front of us. It was a sort of COBRA meeting. The situation was not ideal, so there was a sense of irritation from all even before we got together. As Lousia mentions in her five chair model, we all went straight into attack mode questioning why we let this slip through the cracks and who was responsible for it.

I was in an attack mode myself by equally wondering why are we not getting our heads together to come up with a solution. On the whole, it was not a pleasant experience, and as a team, we were only struggling more and not coming to the solution. Internally, I questioned why the team is labouring the point around repeatedly and again without coming up with a solution (this was my engineering mindset kicking in).

We all eventually realised that going in circles was not good, and we focused on the solution. Fundamentally we were looking backwards, not forwards. And my mind of struggling to understand others was because I projected “my” way of solving, when in reality, that never works.

What could change?

In the end, all was well as we came together as a team, as always. It was evident that we all had something to learn. We took the general rule of thumb that you begin to learn by offering to open up your mind first. The learning and the experience opened up my mind in understanding how to avoid such situations.

  • We need a structured way to build on reflections from all experiences – good or bad.
  • Communication is imperative and the encompassing truth advocated by many. However, I realised that the meaning of what I say depends on the listener’s perspective.
  • There was no un-learning happening on a day-to-day basis. We get set in ways that we know best and fall into a fixed mindset which does no good for anyone.

I set up project management boards and toolkits to make communication easy and transparent. We also have set up automation features in the tool to help us progress work further. With all these systems in place, it helped me to great strides to understand how others work. And most importantly, being open-minded and receptive to perspectives gave me a lot more to learn, not just on ways of working but even on the technical skillset each one had.

Gibb’s Cycle

To go through this reflective exercise I used the Gibb’s Reflective Cycle. The cycle helps give structure to learning from experiences. As it is a cyclic by nature it allows for us to repeat it any number of times. The 6 stages are

  1. Description of the experience
  2. Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  3. Evaluation of the experience, (both good and bad)
  4. Analysis to make sense of the situation
  5. Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
  6. Action Plan how you would deal with similar situations in the future or general changes you might find appropriate
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