Opening Words

We all belong to groups in our lives: a family or families, school classrooms, scouting or 4H groups, churches, sports teams, bands, choirs, and community organizations. And sometimes there’s an event or situation that affects the group, such as a disappointment, failure, tragedy, betrayal, injury, or internal disagreement.

Today, in this Tapestry of Faith service, three of our members will share their stories of what happened when their group went through a painful time together, and survived it, and healed or began a healing process.

Scottie Hart will talk first about a rift in her extended family. Then Walt O’Maley will talk about a toxic workplace situation that changed for the better. Finally, Lindsay Dunckel will talk about building collaboration between community agencies.

Scottie Hart – A Family Rift

In December 2015, a deep, painful rift occurred in my family that has yet to mend. I do not have words to express the anguish I felt then and now about the rupture.

How do we understand healing in a situation like this?

Sometimes healing is about a broken bone that heals stronger than it was before the break. So far, that’s not what’s happening here.

Sometimes healing is about working to create an atmosphere that welcomes dialog. Or maybe healing has occurred when I am no longer buried in sadness, or anger, or fear… Maybe healing means I am at peace with an unwelcome change in a relationship.

I really, really want things to be again the way they were last November, before the rift. My deep, deep preference would be to put that toothpaste back in that tube.

And I am willing to look at more probable possibilities. Given the current realities, what can I do to heal my heart? What strategies for healing do I already know about? In no particular order…

  1. Acknowledge the reality of my pain. Recognize and make space for my tremendous grief. Be willing to do this again and again.
  2. Ask for help. Talk to a neutral third party who’s balance I trust. Although my participation in essential, healing is rarely a do-it-yourself project. I have talked this situation over thoroughly with several wise and compassionate people, and will continue to do so.
  3. Whenever possible, tell the deep truth. Not so much the truth that “That so-and-so is a jerk,” but the truth that I am in pain.
  4. Look at my own contribution to the situation. In what ways did I help set this off? In what ways am I perpetuating my pain? Where have I been unskillful?
  5. Get myself back into balance before I settle on a “plan.” When I am upset, my pre-frontal cortex is not very available; I am physiologically incapable of recognizing a good path toward solution. So it’s important to come to terms with my pain before making a pre-mature attempt to “solve” the situation.
  6. Remember it’s never, ever personal. No one is doing this to me, they’re just doing it.
  7. When I can, remember this is probably not about pointless pain. Chances are good that I will emerge from this furnace more the person I truly want to be than I was when it all started.
  8. Connect in whatever way I can with the foundational reality that I am safe. No matter what it feels like in the moment, the deep truth is that I am safe and I am loved.

These strategies are a well-worn path that will lead me through to healing, to growth and to comfort. And I am deeply grateful for your company on the path.

Musical Interlude: “Rain, Rain,” by Tom Wernigg

Walt O’Maley – A Toxic Workplace

I’m a product manager down in Silicon Valley. Back in 2003 I was over a product for four years that had two different organizations

The first one was one of my worst jobs. The second one of my best. Both sentiments are because of the respective organizations.

First Organization

In first one, the company I was at acquired a small start up that sold software used by mobile carriers.

The general manager and about 25 developers and staff came over. I was their product manager and only one from the larger company.

It soon turned out to be a tough job. The general manager though smart had a large ego.  He is type of guy that it is his way or the highway. Also he was quite combative. If he was not happy with someone he would yell at them in meetings with often 20 coworkers in the room. He put people on the defensive and managed from fear.

The environment was quite toxic. Since he confronted people they would be defensive and often finger point to other coworkers as to why things weren’t completed. I believe a good measure of the state of an organization’s culture is how much joy is there. Is there laughter in meetings at all. In this group there certainly was not.

Given how harsh it was to work there the results were not surprising.

  • Many people left.  Something like 1/2 in two years
  • Given the turnover and lack of developers we missed significant customer commitments
  • Missing commitments resulted in lower sales
  • We had lost credibility with the sales force and most they did not want to try to sell the product anymore

After two years general manager was moved on, but the damage was done.

Second Organization

A new general manager took over who was more a coach than a tyrant. He deferred much of the leadership to myself and development manager.

I knew we needed to go a different way. The product was behind and we lost the sales force for main markets like US and Europe.

So lead engineers and myself brainstormed on possible new uses for the product. After couple days of brainstorm we came to a new vision.

We immediately evangelized the vision to the broader team. We wanted to say that we have a future and hopefully discourage further departures.

The team was jazzed. Plans were formed to start building this new vision.

Then the focus was on getting some customer wins. This was my main focus. It is complex product and requires in-depth technical sale. I acted as product consultant to help the field answer questions. I worked on large proposals and initial pilots. Often sales cycles would be 4 to 6 months.

After several months of work we won the largest carrier in Argentina.

That was a big win for the team. The team felt that not only are we working on a cool new thing, but we now have a real customer. I could talk to management that indeed we are starting to win.

Subsequently we won more deals and sales improved.

Looking at the work environment it was a lot more collaborative as people were not put on the defensive. There was also a lot more joy in the new organization.

Healing

After the general manager left the first organization, there was a lot of angst. Workers had bad feelings about him. They had bad feelings about some coworkers as it had been a finger pointing environment.

Though one might think having active discussions, possibly doing meditation might be a good course for healing, it was not taken. Corporations in my view really do not encourage such discussions even if they say they do.

Rather what I saw and experienced myself was “embracing the future”. Basically, people were assigned to work on the new product vision. They found it compelling and the work environment much more collaborative. So for the average engineer it was positive step. What I observed was no one told anybody “just get over the past”. Rather the negative energy people had about the first organization just “dissipated”. Basically it was not serving anyone anymore.

From this experience, though I do think people need to process things, that a heavy dose of embracing the future should be a good part of healing medicine.

Thanks for opportunity to share.

Musical Interlude: “Do It with Love,” by Tom Wernigg

Lindsay Dunckel – Agency Collaboration

I have a story for you about two groups of people who were working on behalf of children in this county, yet were oddly split from one another – and how we found our way forward, together.

Each county in California has a CAPC – a Child Abuse Prevention Council, charged with investing birth certificate revenues to help prevent child abuse. And each county in California has a First 5 Commission, charged with investing tobacco tax dollars from Prop 10 locally to enhance child development in the first 5 years. Many years ago, the CAPC oversaw some funds from the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention, funds that went to mostly non-profit services in the county; agencies receiving these grants were required to attend a monthly meeting of the CAPC. The meetings involved checking in about any news among the agencies with one agency highlighted at each meeting. As is often the case with meetings that have required attendance, the meetings were dreaded affairs for most participants, and often terribly dull, with no buy-in of the importance of being there and the strong arm of the CAPC board keenly felt. Because the agencies competed each year for the funds available, there was no true collaboration going on nor really any potential for true collaboration.

The executive director of First 5 heard the community’s frustration with these meetings and was also aware of the potential importance and impact of a family service collaborative – and so she got her Commission to agree to fund one that, in her words, ‘worked’. A funding process was undertaken and then the Family Connections Collaborative was begun. Agencies came to the table of their own free will, the collaborative grew as people formed relationships with one another, found common ground and support from the other attendees, and were free to focus on issues of importance to the community and not their own bottom line.

Of course there were hard feelings on the part of the CAPC Board who rightly saw this as a duplication of what they were trying to do, and therefore a challenge to them and their authority. It was at this point that I started working for First 5; I had had a brief stint on the CAPC board when I first came to town, but had had to step down when the meetings conflicted with the classes I was teaching at Sierra College. I suddenly found I was persona non grata with my former colleagues since I now worked for First 5. It was troubling to me, but I saw the work of the Family Connections Collaborative as more vital so gravitated that way anyway.

Long story short, a third collaborative was formed focused on direct service and crossing the county to include colleagues in the Truckee region. That one was called FAST – Family Advocacy and Support Team. And suddenly many people were attending three meetings a month focused on the needs of and services for children and families in Nevada County. I became the Executive Director of First 5 shortly after FAST started up. One day early in my tenure, I attended a child development conference and ran into the new chair of the CAPC board in the hallway – I introduced myself. She noted that there was bad blood between First 5 and CAPC but that with the new leadership, hers and mine, we had a chance to start over. She was a straight-shooter and what she actually said to me was “I think it’s time we all put on our big girl panties and get past that.”

At the same time, those of us on the steering committee of Family Connections, most of whom were intimately involved with FAST as well, were putting together a symposium on inter-agency collaboration – so we reached out to the CAPC Board who agreed to partner with us on it. We put together a panel representing some other communities who were moving mountains with their family service collaborative efforts. It was an inspiring day and proved that we could rise above past hard feelings and work on something for the greater good. We wanted to keep the good work going, so representatives of the three local collaboratives met in my office to discuss how we might move forward. At that first meeting, we all agreed that we should explore how we might work more closely together. Jokingly, we dubbed the group Collab-Collab – the collaboration of collaboratives.

Believe it or not, the Collab Collab met for about a year; we identified that we wanted to create a single collaborative that could embrace the goals and mandates of each group. We trod delicately at first, mindful of egos and politics; but as we worked together monthly, we formed relationships with one another; we laughed often; we loosened up. We refocused on the larger picture: we were all working on behalf of the kids, and that was a touchstone for us – what do the children need? We spent many meetings coming up with a name and then a logo for the new group: the Community Support Network of Nevada County. Throughout this work, we each checked back in with our three collaboratives, tweaking the work in response to their various inputs.

Finally, we felt ready to merge the three collaboratives: we had worked through the mandate issues and realized there were no outside forces keeping us apart. We hired a neutral party to facilitate our merger talks – and I think that was crucial to our success. Susan Sanford, a member of UUCM, actually, handily lead us through a several-meeting process in which all the potential pitfalls and issues were laid on the table and worked through. With her help as an outside observer and expert facilitator, who beautifully modeled positive language and clear and open communication, we were able to create a governance structure that we all felt would work and would meet all the critical needs that the three collaboratives had been, or had been dreaming of, meeting. We were able to work out a structure that was free of top-down or even of majority-rules decision-making, built on consensus that we felt was a better fit for a true collaborative. We articulated a mission statement that made our hearts swell and called to members of all 3 original collaboratives. Here it is: The Community Support Network of Nevada County is an inclusive, voluntary association of agencies and individuals from the Nevada County community who share a common mission:  That all families in Nevada County have ready access to a well-integrated and coordinated support network that is easily available and well funded.

The CSN is still going strong; it has over 400 individuals on its mailing list now, over 60 member agencies. But best of all, CSN has realized the advocacy potential it has to work for a better system for families and children. Last year, the group finalized a Children’s Bill of Rights for Nevada County which was then endorsed by the Board of Supervisors. We proudly wear our bright green t-shirts that say “And how are the children?” And remind those around us that this should be the first question we ask as we are making any decision that affects the community. The question that drew us together, that served as our touchstone, as we navigated our way to working together despite our fractious past.