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My business partner and I have been through a lot. We’ve raced hurricanes in airplanes, weathered deaths, surgeries, car accidents, pneumonia, and some fairly interesting clients. We’ve also walked this path together of becoming systems thinkers. And that involves going through a lot apart.
That has come from bonding social capital — time spent together and practicing our craft, writing, thinking, building. It comes from familiarity.
But it would be a commodity if we did not mix it with bridging social capital. These are experiences we have apart. And not two-day-class in a hotel experiences, but real experiences that involve learning, frustration, and changes in perspective.
Last year Tonianne got her sailing certificates, well, not all the sailing certificates, but a handful of them. It required tons of study (we’d be on planes and I’d want to talk about teams or Deming or something and she’d be buried in nautical charts and navigation schemes). She was successful, of course, and has spent many hours on the water since.
And it’s made her a better organizational designer. The change in perspective, the learning of entirely new arts, the appreciation for what quality or beauty looks like from a boat captain, the need to communicate on a noisy sailboat to people who can barely hear you, and so on, all combined to open new ways of thinking for her. It immersed her in a new system.
Her emergence from that new bridging activity integrates with our bonding in wonderful ways. She draws from those experiences in consulting and each time she does, I learn something new.
What even better is bridging is strangely exciting. When people draw from one area of expertise and apply it to another it is the essence of creativity. It feels good. It’s deep. It is noticed by others and is contagious.
They’re like, “I didn’t see that coming.” And what’s funny is, the person saying it is equally surprised.
If you are creating change in an organization and want to build strong teams, know that teams will become “strong” on their own — pathologically so. They will become insular and self important. Teams will always want to protect the team. That is, teams naturally build their own bonding social capital which is vital for productivity but detrimental to external collaboration or creativity.
You need to build-in mechanisms to support bridging social capital. People need experiences outside the team to grow, to learn, to gather new perspectives. That makes the team truly strong by allowing it to create its unique internal understanding and trust, while avoiding stagnation and anti-social behavior.
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