Expeditions usually begin with joyous photos, optimistic spirits and a sense that anything is possible. There is a mountain to climb and we are going to summit that monster!
But The Exploration Group was recently commissioned for an expedition that began as anything but joyous. This expedition was more about saving a sinking ship than going somewhere exciting. We were entering a sailor's bar fight, not a pre-voyage celebration. On top of that, passengers were jumping overboard and the water was rising.
The organization realized it was falling apart and didn't know what to do. Without outside intervention the entity would surely sink. The Exploration Group was sent in on a rescue expedition to see if there was hope. If not, it would be search and recovery expedition at best.
Our first task was to listen. The Exploration Group presented guiding questions about the issues, about the future, about the past and about the pain. We had to understand the issues in their complexity. We had to build trust, and do it fast. Trust is not easy to build in the midst of a fight between sailors on a sinking ship!
Trust did come, over time in the organization, by creating spaces that were safe and by lingering in that space long enough for the people to hear each other and discover a fresh purpose. The time required was about three months to see if the entity was even worth saving. It was another three months before fragile inklings of trust appeared. At that point we could begin creating the building blocks to see if a new business could be birthed.
What's the point? Pain is usually the first step in an organizations next discovery. It is not to be avoided, it is to embraced as a stepping stone for the future.