Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 7;   February 16, 2011: Finding the Third Way

Finding the Third Way

by

When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
Heiltskuk Icefield, British Columbia

Heiltskuk Icefield, British Columbia, showing the confluence of two glaciers: Silverthrone and Klinaklini. Glaciers that result from the confluence of tributaries carry the flows of their tributaries, but, as in this case, they are sometimes not as wide as the total width of their tributaries. Depending on the relative depths and flow rates, the resulting glacier often must move at speeds exceeding any of the tributaries.

In a divided group, the various factions often fear union because they fear disappearing into the whole, along with their concerns. But just as with tributary glaciers, the united group can produce more — and move more quickly — than the factions can competing with each other. Most often, stable unions confer benefits that all share. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

When a group reaches an impasse, two common configurations are the dead end and division. The dead end occurs when the current paradigm fails and there is no alternative. It's bad news, but at least the team is together (usually, that is).

In division, there are two or more contending alternatives, and the team is often polarized around these choices. People with a talent for finding the "third way" are valuable assets, because they can often find the key element that reunites the team and gets it moving forward again. One such person on a team is good; two are better. Even better than that: an entire team that understands the concept of the third way and works together to find agreement.

Here are some techniques for finding the third way.

Agree that agreement is needed
For a divided group, unanimity is achievable only after all agree that unity is desirable. Achieving agreement about agreement can enhance the likelihood of respectful exchange, and limit the chances of the current disagreement turning into toxic conflict.
Beware ideology
An ideology is a set of principles and ideals that form a comprehensive vision of the field in question. An ideology provides a complete framework for considering that field, reaching beyond any current concrete issues. That's why ideologies have difficulty with concepts that arise outside their scope. When a subgroup of a team forms around an ideology, that subgroup faces obstacles when working with other team members.
Replace ideologies with specifics
What makes People with a talent for finding
the "third way" are valuable
assets, because they can often
find the key element that reunites
the team and gets it moving
forward again
ideologies so exclusive of alternative views is their comprehensiveness. If one or more of the team's coalitions is united by an ideology, invite its members to replace the ideology with specific goals. Specific goals are preferable to ideologies because they aren't constrained by issues that aren't yet on the agenda.
Examine opposing ideas for commonalities
Gather whatever the opposing ideas do have in common, and use that as a fresh starting point. Set aside any elements about which there is polarized disagreement. What remains is probably an incomplete description of the way forward, but try to make it more complete by asking, "What can we add to this that will move us forward?" Add only those bits about which you can gain consensus.
Focus to expand existing coalitions
If the team is divided, work to reduce the number of factions and expand each coalition by narrowing its focus. For instance, given a collection of common ideas on which some team members agree, try jettisoning one of them experimentally, by asking, "What if…" If the result is still acceptable to that group, invite people not yet in agreement to examine the reduced list. Can they now agree to join?

If we can't agree that all these insights are helpful, maybe you've found that some of them are. Which ones? Go to top Top  Next issue: Personnel-Sensitive Risks: I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenylrMgyWirXjXJOmOner@ChacksYMJwgeOeSCGldRoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Chair clusterGive It Your All
If you have the time and resources to read this, you probably have a pretty good situation, or you have what it takes to be looking for one. In many ways, you're one of the fortunate few. Are you making the most of the wonderful things you have? Are you giving it your all?
A page from the Bradford JournalWorking Journals
Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did, and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw. And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
Ancient stairs at ruins in CambodiaThe True Costs of Indirectness
Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict. It can be an expensive practice.
Vincent's Bedroom in Arles, by Vincent Van GoghVirtual Conflict
Conflict, both constructive and destructive, is part of teamwork. As virtual teams become more common, we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive conflict is difficult enough face-to-face, but in virtual teams, it's especially tricky.
The Challenge vs. Skill diagram, showing the "Flow" regionTop 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976Coming December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
An engineer attending a meeting with 14 other engineersAnd on December 27: On Assigning Responsibility for Creating Trouble
When we assign responsibility for troubles that bedevil us, we often make mistakes. We can be misled by language, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about others. Available here and by RSS on December 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrensKyyPYIcmaFswubhner@ChacfsVAZDDLwbBogpJaoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.