Lessons from the Space Shuttle

Yesterday, I was involved in an interesting conversation between 2 of my clients. One of the things I love about the coaching/consulting space is the spontaneous opportunity [and necessity] required to move in and out of several roles: educator, referee, and sometimes – rocket scientist.

When conversations get heated

One of the approaches I use when conversations develop “heat” between 2 or more players is to introduce a neutral source that takes the attention off of each other and puts it on something that is relevant to moving the conversation forward. This idea of a source that dissipates heat is seen in the Space Shuttle. During reentry, The Space Shuttle generates a searing 1,650 °C (3,000 °F) heat index from atmospheric friction. Protecting the Orbiter from such extreme heat required a thermal protection system [barrier] which became infamously known as the “heat tiles”. Once installed, the tremendous heat is successfully deflected from the vehicle and voila ! No deep fried astronauts.

So, a little bit of the backstory on yesterday’s conversation. A small family business [<5MM] owned by a married couple had overtime lost sight of its organizational goals and was a proverbial “ship without a rudder”. TPG was hired to optimize the company, do some culture shift work, and improve their bottom line in under nine months.

As we redefined position agreements, created a performance evaluation, and improved communications quickly, the root issue got exposed: there was unresolved friction built up over years of hurting each other. As we began to clear a safe space to unravel it all, words flew:

“You constantly minimize my ability to make sound assessments about you & your leadership” “You are passive aggressive, and constantly avoid my observations about how to lead”
“You always attack me and accuse me of things that are just not true / you embarrass me publicly“

I think you get the point.

Protecting you from the heat

None of us like being in heated discussions – in fact, most people hate them. What turned it around for them? The D.I.S.C. Productive Conflict Tool. Once we took their eyes off of the pattern of attack and accuse, we started looking at how the tool was describing their behaviour and actions in this conflict. We then used the data for each party to take responsibility for themselves. Just like the heat tiles, the tool shielded the heat and we landed the conversation with no one getting fried.

Break the cycle

Game changer: pattern broken. With the suggestion of a relevant assignment that dovetailed perfectly with what the tool was indicating, we were able to move the conversation forward, and get them back on track with sweeping change initiative.

What about you? Are you unresolved about a partner, team member, or key person in your organization? Let’s start a dialogue and come up with an approach.

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