Power hides behind an invisible veil.

A key consequence of its concealment is that its utilisation is either taken for granted or overlooked entirely. There are too few discussions in organisations about where and how power is administered. The veiled force is applied unknowingly.  

Distribution of power is a mechanism that permeates most business functions. It affects approaches to market; the nature of external and internal relationships; and how teams, divisions, strategies and operational processes are managed and executed.

The core question centres around how power is manifested. Is it used to govern, manage and control individuals, teams and organisations? Or is it utilised to create shared understanding, and facilitate mutuality-supportive environments?

Move With strategies

‘Move With’ strategies and approaches facilitate psychological safety, as the focus of attention is based on accessing power through the collective. Move With approaches form the basis of mutuality-based environments.

Under Move With strategies, people proactively seek to engage others, to deepen understanding, expand and evaluate their frame of reference. The strategies can be deployed when people want to create something new; where there is ambiguity; or when they want to resolve complex problems.

Move With thinking uses deep relationships as its foundation. It explores complexities by harnessing the views of others to learn and create alternative perspectives. Under the approach, employees recognise and appreciate their companionship with colleagues – and this facilitates senses of safety and support. The virtuous circle that forms helps organisations step into the unknown and work with ambiguity and complex challenges.  

Particularly in times of uncertainty, mutuality-based environments can shine a light on the dark side of behaviours that manifest in anxiety responses. They can transform reactions to not-knowing and ambiguity from negative to positive. Creating psychological safety and support facilitates trust and shared understanding, collective ownership, positive-motivated engagement and productivity in teams and organisations.

Key practices for creating mutuality and distributing power

Clarify Purpose

Clearly defined purpose statements create unifying contexts that connect hearts and minds and build collective accountability. This helps individuals, teams and functions understand the impact and the practical contributions that they can make to organisations. Purpose also creates the framework that informs the alignment and attainment of goals, objectives and the focus of day-to-day activities. The three key principles for creating effective purpose statements are:

1. Keep it short, ideally one sentence

2. Use clear language

3. Avoid jargon – use wording that anyone outside the organisation would understand

Return Authority

It impossible for individual leaders to know all and be everything to everyone. Successful leaders thrive by returning authority. This means letting go of the need to know; being seen to be right; having all the answers; and making every decision. Actively seeking and encouraging views, perspectives, ideas and opinions of others invites participation and engagement and harnesses the power in diversity of thought. Returning authority creates a supportive context for well-informed collective engagement and robust team-based decision-making processes.

Honour Complexity

Investing time and effort to partner with others to explore complex challenges can reveal alternative options. It can facilitate creative approaches for establishing resourceful solutions.

Engage Ambiguity

Ambiguity is too frequently conflated with impossibility. Embrace uncertainty! The most effective approach for working with ambiguity is on an incremental basis, one step at a time. Focus on intended outcomes before stepping into the unknown. Follow this with monitoring and evaluating the impact of actions and outcomes before taking the next step. Individuals and teams are more likely to step into unknown territories when they feel mutually supported by their colleagues.

Resolve Conflict

It is inevitable that conflict will emerge when we encourage and utilise the power from diversity of thought. Engaging and working with conflicting views and opinions is a natural part of developing depth in relationships. Investing time and effort to explore the causes of challenges – and working with and resolving conflicts when they arise – creates a unifying context. Conflict resolution establishes environments that build and facilitate shared understanding, collaborative support and sustainable depth in relationships.

Catherine Hayes is an organisation transition and transformation specialist. Her book Transition Leadership, Navigating the Complexities of Organisational Change is published in June 2020