People Lift Each Other Beyond Their Conventional Game

Interview with an IdeaConnection Facilitator
Peter McCoppin is an internationally renowned conductor, broadcaster and a gifted communicator. As an executive coach, his leadership, team-building and communication skills are the foundation of the training programs he has developed for corporate and government executives.

He is currently facilitating two challenges and talks about success, team dynamics and how to get the best out of people.

photo of Peter McCoppinHow are the two challenges progressing?
I believe that we are well on the way to succeeding in both of these. And we’re going to come to a solution well in advance of the deadline. I give credit to the team. If we give people the opportunity to be understood, to be valued and to be significant and if we call forth and have expectations for the best, then most likely they will show up to that effect.

In these cases we are drawing on a fantastic resource of really brilliant people. What is so wonderful is that one plus one makes six, because when these people get together and because they come from different backgrounds and so forth they just lift each other beyond their conventional game. That is just such a wonderful situation.

What skills do you possess as a facilitator that helps to get the best out of people?
In all of the work that I do in terms of my training program I facilitate rather than lead. I catalyze the dialogue, recognizing for example that people support what they create. And so my purpose is to provide subtle direction and to promote collegial, collaborative thinking.

My process in any teaching that I do is to ask questions, I don’t give direction. To this same forum I bring that same skill, where I’m simply asking the questions which will invigorate the dialogue or in some places I’ll just make sure we stay on track, but again very subtly. It’s not in any way intrusive so as to promote and hopefully to maximize the effectiveness of the collaboration of the team. So I am not there to impose, only to invite, and it seems to work reasonably well.

For example I remember the first time we came to a challenge we met on Skype and I suggested we first of all get to know each other a little bit and so I invited each person to participate and tell us a little something about himself or herself. And then I said “what strengths do you believe you would bring to this particular task?” because we want to leverage strengths. And then I asked the team “within which timeline do you think we should accomplish this task, what seems reasonable? And by the way what would great look like?”

So if we know what the end looks like we will achieve the end. And then I said to them “I wonder if we should set some ground rules and governing principles at the outset to ensure we maximize our individual and collective creativity.” In reply some people would say that for any idea, a good idea - once we have parked our egos at the door – we should stay open and receptive, not get fixed or attached to any specific unilateral bias, and we should be continually nimble. And so we set this up.

And then with one of the tasks, which I’m not at liberty to say what it is of course, the team moved in a specific direction en masse almost immediately, and they didn’t consider any other possible solution. They didn’t go down another road as they seemed quite convinced. And so I said to them, just before we get ourselves entrenched here could we consider, what would be a completely wild and weird idea that just seems completely off the wall, that seems unreasonable, but one that we can at least pursue as an alternative to this one to which you seem persuaded.

And then I quoted Einstein who said, “if at first an idea does not appear to be absolutely absurd it has no future”. And then Dr David Bohm, physicist and philosopher who said “it is more important to think differently than the knowledge gained”.

It is that differentness of thinking that way left of field thinking that has really brought us forward through history with the likes of Galileo and Copernicus and so forth, the people who stretched our thinking in a whole new direction.
And then otherwise within the dialogue I just keep things subtly focused so that one person does not dominate the conversation or that an individual is not simply indulging himself or herself, and that we are always in concert, always moving to a shared intention.

Is the rapport between team members important?
I believe so. I believe that all relationships are fundamentally personal – there would be academics who argue against that – but the first thing we have to do is to earn each other’s respect, trust and confidence in order to move forward in a real dialogue. And to provide a level of comfort that people will feel at ease, even to say something which might appear to be outrageous, but really could be something wondrous in the end result.

This is important especially because people don’t have the advantage of seeing each other or knowing each other in any way. So we have to do everything possible to create in a virtual reality setting a feeling of community. I think that’s critical.

So it is important that people feel comfortable presenting their ideas, no matter how ‘bizarre’ they might appear at first.
Yes exactly, especially amongst peers where people don’t want to appear to be foolish, they don’t want to be judged or misunderstood or perhaps even ridiculed for perhaps having what might appear to be an outrageous idea. Yet that outrageous idea might just be the necessary element to propel us to a completely new solution.

And the team members hail from different backgrounds, disciplines and cultures – what’s the value of that do you feel?
The value of that is synchronicity in its literal definition - unity in diversity. Bringing together people of different cultures and different backgrounds really optimizes a broad and vigorous dialogue where people stir each other out of their own comfort zones. It really keeps things shaken up so that we can have some really chaotic thinking. And that’s the key to creativity.

Which allows you to venture into the unknown?
Yes exactly. And when I go back to that level of comfort I mentioned, it was Einstein who said that “creativity can only exist within a playful environment” so it is to have that element of play, that free association without all the typical professional posturing of discipline and accomplishment. We put all that to one side and call upon wonderment. Be childlike, it’s beautiful. It’s free of ego, guile or pretense of any kind.

Does the ThinkSpace help you and your teams with this?
I believe it does. It does primarily for the various team members to help them compare their notes and have exchanges in anticipation of a full team meeting. In terms of individuals working through ideas and testing them in advance of a team meeting it is a valuable tool.

Do you use any thinking tools?
I haven’t used them so far, but would be open to doing so. I think they could be quite valuable, but I would like to avoid as much as possible anything that seems contrived.

What is satisfying to me personally is continuous learning, and to have my mind opened in areas and to ways of thinking that I wouldn’t otherwise experience. That’s a gift in itself. I am not a trained scientist, I’m a right brained thinker, I conduct symphony orchestras, and I now do leadership training and team building – all sorts of right brained stuff.

So here I am working with people who are very strong in the left brain, and so the opportunity to stretch and grow and be tested is a huge opportunity. And also to feel that one has participated in something which not only will be an accomplishment of a team, but rather it’s going to have general benefit to many many people of the world. So there’s a contribution that we are making. That’s enormously gratifying.

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