Earlier this fall, I looked out my daughter’s window and saw what must have been close to 100 spiderwebs. I often gaze out her window as it’s my favorite view in the house–a natural, perfectly groomed forest. But I’d never seen even one spiderweb out there before.
Unique viewing conditions
The spiderwebs had of course always been there. But under normal circumstances, the air outside is dry. And there’s not a lot of angled sunlight, so I couldn’t see the spiderwebs. The spiderwebs are hidden in plain sight, so to speak.
But that morning, thanks to the moist, cool temperature, specific light, and low wind, they became visible to me for the first time.
Bring the hidden into plain sight when coaching
If you’re following Esther Derby and my podcast, The Law of Jam, you may have heard us talk about observing systems to see what’s hidden in plain sight.
In coaching teams, and organizations, you’re looking to discover and reveal things. Because when things are brought into plain sight, you increase your situational awareness, and your chances of making informed interventions increase. And if interventions are not possible or desirable, you can at least navigate the landscape without harming the spiderwebs.
Creating viewing conditions
But as important as it is to explore, discover, and reveal things through the data that’s collected, we also need to think about what viewing conditions are necessary in order for the environment to fully reveal itself.
This means that data collection alone might not be enough. You might need to be deliberate in creating the viewing conditions that allow for the right data to be collected in the first place. In other words, you might need to create view points that don’t yet exist.
An old colleague of mine was coaching a management team that would “push work” to teams without understanding the effect it had. Concerns and feedback would be escalated through middle managers, and through eNPS-surveys. But it had little effect. So the coach created a new viewing condition by bringing the management team to the teams during and after their standups. During the visit he’d interview team members about their work, progress, pain points, and he’d also ask them to share their understanding of the strategy.
The management team initially lacked the necessary viewing conditions to fully see their organizations and teams. Once the necessary viewing conditions were put into place, the way forward became clear.
Different levels of understanding
If someone would have told me that there are many spiderwebs in the forest outside my daughters window, I would have intellectually understood it. After all, it is a forest.
And if I would have taken a walk in the forest looking for spiderwebs, I might have seen some spiderwebs, but I would never understood the full extent.
Neither of those conditions revealed the spiderwebs as well as the viewing conditions that morning. This illustrates the importance of having the right viewing conditions.
Explore your viewing conditions
To understand your viewing conditions, begin by first exploring what they look like right now. Then ask yourself, or the organization and team, what viewing conditions that would fully reveal your context. You’ll probably need to explore when and where to observe, who to include, and to explore other ways of collecting information.
Different settings, times, and types of studies make all the difference in what understanding you create, and what options you get.