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Our defensive interactions are very stable: largely unconscious and "undiscussable".

Chris Argyris has documented defensive interactions in the corporate context since the 1970s, 20 years before brain sciences could begin to provide scientific explanations.

By rigorously observing thousands of managers dealing with business decisions, he came to the following conclusions:
  • confronted with difficult problems, managers are very often using inadequate interactions which he called "Model I interactions"

  • model I interactions Model I interactions lead to poor team learning, low commitment for action and low mutual trust

  • when asked after the fact to describe how they were interacting around these difficult problems, managers were not aware that they were using Model I interactions ! But they answered that they were using effective team learning interactions: Model II interactions

  • to improve team learning and performance, managers need to:

  1. become aware of the incoherencies between what they were actually doing (Model I) and what they believed they were doing (Model II)

  2. learn to use more often and predictably Model II interaction

But managers are colluding, also unconsciously, to defensive routines to protect themselves collectively from the consequences of Model I interactions:

  • Model I interactions include the strategy to avoid negative feelings in others so they are practically "undiscussable": imagine saying "I just avoided saying 'X' to avoid you getting upset".  And so they are effectively largely undiscussed

  • the consequences of Model I interactions - poor learning, ineffective meetings , poor decisions, low commitment, little mutual trust - are either also "undiscussable" or collectively attributed to "the system here"

  • management considers thus that they have little or no individual responsibility for contributing to these consequences

  • and so they do not need to invest time and energy in understanding and learning to avoid the root causes of these consequences

These defensive routines maintain poor results from team building efforts to change team performance. And they allow many managers to escape the need for personal change. Or, as written by Peter Senge,:

"The fantasy that somehow organizations (teams) can change without personal change, and especially without change on the part of people in leadership positions, underlies many change efforts doomed to failure."

So when we look at a team building workshop or technique, we should ask:

  • does it create the awareness that we are collectively responsible for "the system here" and the defensive routines?

  • does it create the awareness that if I do not learn to replace Model I interactions with Model II, I am co-responsible to perpetuate ineffective interactions and all their consequences?

Return from defensive interactions to root team building issues

Return from defensive interactions to team building results


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