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EP: 68 – What Lies Beneath: How Organisations Really Work with Ajit Menon & Trevor Hough

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Ajit and Trevor

Introduction: Dr. Ajit Menon is a business psychologist and consultant and co-founder of Blacklight Advisory a specialist organisational consultancy to a diverse range of clients. Ajit is also faculty of the London School of Economics, Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. He is also co-author with Trevor Hough of the book this podcast showcases; What lies beneath how organisations really work. 

Trevor Hough is a clinical psychologist, executive coach, and organisational development consultant. Trevor is a self-confessed nomad, living all over the World furthering his interest in diverse cultural experiences. Trevor works with Ajit as a Principal Consultant at Blacklight Advisory outside of his own consultancy practice. Trevor’s great interest is in the outdoors especially the African Bush where he has recently trained as a field and trails guide.  

 

Podcast Episode Summary

Eight crafted stories about Organisational Life are illuminated in the book What Lies Beneath: How organisations really work, by the authors Trevor Hough and Ajit Menon. They show how problems of Culture, Succession, Transition & Leadership Team Alignment are often masked by underlying and often unconscious emotions of fear, anxiety, envy, uncertainty and abandonment. The resulting defences of denial, blame, splitting, pairing and collusion blur the view of the “real” problem which needs to be solved by the client. Ajit and Trevor share how tricky this terrain can be in the eight stories they share in their book. The work of organisational development is complex and it serves a Coach/Consultant to not only be paired in the work but also to have regular supervision.  

Points made over the episode

  • Ajit and Trevor share an interest & history that could be described as nomadic 
  • Important to appreciate difference in the many cultural contexts the work entails. 
  • As an organisational consultant, working in and out of organisations all of the time it behoves the consultant to be able to sit “at the edge of the system” & not collude by a desire to belong. 
  • Ajit shares that one of the first question he & Trevor often ask clients is “what else?” or What else is going on?  so as to resist the temptation to prematurely rush to solution 
  • Clients are very rarely completely right and it takes considered contracting to scope a solution or potential solution to a presenting issue. 
  • Problems lie at a human level even though we would like to think they are all technical
  • Working with a client system is never just about the client alone,  it is about the consultant as well. What you bring, your views, the lens by which you see the world etc. are all played out. 
  • The book while a slim product is full of depth in how it explores what lies beneath in an organisation and by what it evokes in the reader. 
  • How can we as coaches and consultants impact and influence the system? Ajit and Trevor responded by saying often the coach has to be willing to use self as instrument and notice what is being evoked. The story about the client in the fashion house in Paris, explored later, is an example of such. 
  • Question what draws you to do the work-looking beneath can often mean an uncomfortable enquiry. 
  • A big part of the work is about understanding our own process. Awareness is key. 
  • Peer supervision is not to be feared it is a different type of workout. 
  • Supervision is about doing work on the work 
  • The yearning by coaches to be liked is dangerous. Often Clients do not like what we have to say. That’s OK 
  • Our role is asocial -we have to think about what is good for the client and not our ego. 
  • Ajit & Trevor are called into client systems to consider topics like, A CEO in Transition, Culture Change, Succession, Leadership Team Alignment and they are both apt to ask “If that is the answer why is coaching the solution? If team building is the solution what is the problem it can help address” 
  • Inquiry is a positive intervention and can serve to illuminate some of the complexity up front. 
  • Example of the story of Hong Kong where two founders purported to want to leave but in reality that was not the case and they returned 
  • The work is tricky & not easy to spot but with supervision and dialogue without attachment we can begin to see patterns, themes, dynamics -often you require the lens of an outsider to help you see how you might be colluding. 
  • Another story with a private bank in London shows how speaking up and being straight with a client can still backfire. 
  • The unsaid remains under the surface and it takes courage to speak the unsaid. 
  • Trevor explores how at the end of an assignment the client was disappointed the client felt they had done all of the work. If you are injured by that as a consultant you are in danger. Clients often want to give you the “ball of fire” the problem for you to solve. 
  • Our work is to encourage the client to put the “ball of fire” on the table and through inquiry be able to piece out what is going on. 
  • The Drama Triangle is a useful concept to keep in mind when doing organisational consultancy and why supervision is important 
  • Trevor explained repetition compulsion and how often it occurs. He told of a client in HR who kept moving between organisations and kept ending up working for Narcissists – “what is your story of origin?” “What are you trying to solve?” What are you thinking is going to be different this time?” are just some of the questions he asked instead of trying to solve the problem of working with Narcissists 
  • The idea of helping a client build a great team might simply be feeding the fantasy a team is the ultimate concept. Question why you want or need a team. Teams are often an overvalued concept when a peer group set up might equally serve or do better
  • Do we really appreciate what it is to get into a communal mindset? The story of Nairobi highlights these tensions. 
  • What needs to be illuminated at the contracting stage to aid the work? Question why a client has chosen you. How you get into relationship will often predict how you will be in that system -what does the client desire?
  • In order to have a clear focus of where the work really is,  it helps to ask; What is the problem you want to solve? What have you done so far? What keeps getting in the way? 
  • The case in Paris resulted in Ajit and Trevor acting out the very dynamic being experienced by the client- strong presence and awareness coupled with peer supervision helped them see what was happening and how they needed to be with the client to explore their findings. 
  • This example exemplifies the danger of working alone in a system. Meta perspective is crucial. 
  • Important to start as  you mean to go on and to forever be authentic. 

Resources shared 

  • What Lies Beneath: How organisations really work by Ajit Menon & Trevor Hough. 

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