Team Building For High Performance

I’ve recently been writing a post on building high-performance teams (I’ve spent most of my career either building high performance teams myself, being part of a high performance team under construction, or helping others build high-performance teams). The post in question is rather getting away from me, in terms of length, and I might choose to convert it into a small book instead.

But I did want to post something on the topic, not least because during my research for the post I’ve come across so many instances of advice contrary to my own experience, advice which I believe if followed would undermine any such effort, and result in mediocre, under-performing teams, at best. Compared to what’s possible.

So, skipping over the definitions of “teams” and “high performance”, the rationale for teams, and the detailed ins and outs and how-to’s, in this post I’ll just cut to the nub of the challenge, as I see it: whole-part thinking.

Whole-Part Thinking

Most teams I’ve seen being built exist as a part of a larger whole (team, development organisation or silo, company).

That larger whole usually holds all the aces when it comes to stipulating what is and is not permissible. Hiring practices; compensation practices; incentives and motivational practices; working practices; internal and external communications practices; management structures, doctrines and practices; ways in which folks can relate to each other a.k.a. social norms; influence over the workplace, tools and equipment; remote vs on-premise working; working hours and locations; and so on. All these and more are generally under the control of the wider organisation (sometimes explicitly, more often, implicitly).

So, the constraints on our team building efforts are legion. And these constraints are generally antithetical to our achieving high performance. For successful builders of high performance teams, the biggest challenge they have overcome is the challenge of circumventing these constraints, without alienating the larger whole (and the powers that be) to the extent that they lose their credibility and influence. And sustaining their circumventions, credibility and influence, over the long haul.

I’ve written at greater length about these challenges in my 2012 posts “OrgCogDiss” and “French Letters” (the latter specifically about Agile teams, but equally relevant for all kinds of high-performance team).

In a nutshell, then: whole-part thinking leads organisations to believe that a development team or silo is a more or less independent entity, masters of their own performance, and can be held accountable as such. In reality, the constraints of being a part of the larger whole impact teams to such an extent that they have little to no independent control over their own performance.

Enable High Performance For the Whole

Organisations that truly value performance over rules change the rules (constraints) to enable high performance across the whole organisation. Many prefer to stick with their existing assumptions, beliefs and rules.

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Agile is No More (or Less) Than a Skunkworks ~ Think Different blog post
Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules ~ Think Different blog post
I Want You To Cheat ~ John Seddon

The Marshall Plan

I guess most people, when they start a new job or client engagement, have in mind the things they want to do and see happen. Most likely, things they’ve seen or made happen in previous jobs or engagements. Along with, maybe, some things they’ve read or heard about and are minded to try out, given the opportunity. (And what better opportunity than the honeymoon period of a new job or client?)

We might choose to call this an agenda.

My Agenda

I’m no different, excepting perhaps the items that feature on my agenda:

  • Invite participation in discussing “who matters?” (with respect to i.e. the work and the way it works)
  • Empathise with the emergent community of “folks that matter” (not exclusively, but as a priority)
  • Invite folks to listen to each other’s volunteered observations, hear each other’s feelings, and explore each other’s needs.
  • Invite folks to solicit and then begin attending to each other’s requests (explicit and implicit)
  • Offer and provide support to folks and communities in their journeys

Note: I’ve not included on my agenda anything about specific actions that I myself might want to do and see happen, beyond the items listed. Specifically, although I’ve written often about strategies such as Flowchain, Prod•gnosis, Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, self-organising/managing teams, the quality of interpersonal relationships and interactions, etc., I don’t bring these into my agenda. If folks discover these strategies for themselves, they’re much more likely to understand their fundamentals, and maybe come up with even more effective strategies.

The Antimatter Principle is the only strategy I’ve regularly written about that recognisably features on my prospective agenda, and then only by extending invitations to participate in that strategy. (Note: Attentive readers may just notice the tip of the Organisational Psychotherapy iceberg peeking out from the above agenda).

I’ve reached a point in my journey where, keen as my ego is to see all my ideas (strategies) made manifest, my experience tells me that’s not the way to go for the best outcomes for the community as a whole.

As for the Marshall Plan, I believe it’s best, in the longer run, to have the folks involved (in particular, the people that matter) do their own discovery and learning. Discovering for themselves, over time – through means they also discover for themselves – effective strategies for attending to folks’ needs (often including the principles underlying those strategies). I see my role in this Plan as supporting – in whichever ways folks request, or say they need – this collective endeavour. Such support quite possibly to include actively helping the discovery and learning, whenever there’s an explicit (albeit refusable) request for me to do so.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Benefits of Self-directed Learning

Testbash Dublin and Organisational Psychotherapy

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m just back from presenting an interactive session on Organisational Psychotherapy at Testbash Dublin. Some folks seemed confused as to the relevance of Organisational Psychotherapy to testers and the world of testing, so I’m happy to explain the connection as I see it. (And please note that many of my previous posts on Organisational Psychotherapy may also help to illuminate this connection.)

I’ll start by riffing on something Rob Meaney said during his presentation:

“Significant quality improvements [aren’t] driven by testing. They [are] driven by building relationships and influencing the right people at the right time.” ~ @RobMeaney #TestBash

Quality (and other) improvements come from improved relationships. This has been a theme on this blog for some years now. For example see: The Power of Humane Relationships.

I asked a key (for me) question during my session (several times):

“If we accept that (as per the Marshall Model) it’s the collective mindset of the organisation that determines its relative effectiveness, how do we propose to support the organisation if and when it choses to do something about its mindset?”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I heard no answers, excepting my own proposal for a means to that end: Organisational Psychotherapy.

I wonder how many folks involved with testing ask themselves and their peers the question “How can our organisation become more effective at testing?”. Or, using the #NoTesting frame, “How can our organisation become more effective at delivering quality products and services?”


Organisational Psychotherapy is not just about improving product quality, however. Through improved relationships, and a shift in how the organisation relates to its people (i.e. from Theory-X to Theory-Y), the quality of life at work also improves. Put another way, we all have more fun, more job satisfaction, and get to realise more of our potential at work. Further, for all the folks that matter, their several needs get better met. And, as a bonus for the organisation itself, it gets to see its people more productive and engaged. What’s not to like?


I’ve also written elsewhere about using the Antimatter Principle in practical ways during software development. For example, during development we eschew requirements gathering in favour of incrementally elaborating hypotheses about the needs of all the folks that matter, and then conducting experiments to explore those needs. I can envisage teams that still need testers adopting a needs-focused approach to driving testing. For example, putting into place various means by which to answer the question “how well does our product meet the needs of the people that matter to us?”.

Practical Applications

On a related note, some folks asked me about practical applications of Organisational Psychotherapy in their day-to-day work as testers. Here’s just a few applications which immediately come to mind:

  • Improving communication with the people that matter (i.e. developers, fellow testers, management, stakeholders, customers, etc.). I find NVC (nonviolent communication) skills and practice particularly useful in this context.
  • Clarifying what works and thus what to do more of (Cf Solutions Focus). This can improve team retrospectives.
  • Helping the people that matter (including ourselves) feel better about what we’re doing (Cf. Positive Psychology).
  • Understanding each other’s strengths, with a view to having the right people in the right seats on the bus (Cf. StrengthsFinder).
  • Eliciting requirements (if you still do that) (Cf Clean Language).
  • Building a community (such as a Testing CoP or a multi-skilled self-organising product team) (Cf Satir Family Therapy).
  • Improved cooperation with higher-ups (empathy, Transactional Analysis, etc.).
  • Dealing with blockers to changing/improving the way the work works.


I’d love to hear if this post has helped put my recent Testbash session in context.

– Bob



I’m feeling discombobulated. Other emotions, too, of course. Both positive and negative. But for the time being, discombobulation predominates. I’m guessing some of you fellows might be experiencing some of the same sensations. Bruce Tuckman described this as common for groups in the “forming” stage – stage one – of his model.

Knowing it’s common, and even being ready for it, doesn’t seem to lessen its impact much, if at all. I just wanted to share, in case you felt it was just you. You’re not alone.

I’ve been trying to process and arrange folks’ recent comments, and form some responses. Many things are still in motion in my head, and my heart, but here’s the first clutch of thoughts:

Who’s In Charge Of Us Fellows?

I have little inkling as yet as to the kind of mental models fellows have about organising for collaboration. Do those models follow the Rightshifting distribution, or do we have a preponderance of more synergistic thinkers? I don’t know – but I’m looking forward to finding out. I’m assuming at least some folks will be coming from more traditional (Analytic-minded) backgrounds. In which case I guess it’s only natural to think in terms of “who’s in charge”.

Who do you want to be in charge? What does “in charge” mean? And what are the merits and demerits – a.k.a. consequences – of the idea of having one or more people “in charge” in any case?

Personally, the sooner we get to some effective, functioning self-organisation, the happier I’ll be. I have ideas, sure, but I’m betting everyone does. I have some notions of what we could be doing first (priorities). Again, I’m sure everyone does. Can I act on that? Discombobulation.

Who do you go convince that you have a good idea worth consideration? Who will give the green light to your suggestion and put things in motion?

And, above all perhaps, how does this question of “who’s in charge?” play into the bigger picture of Organisational Psychotherapy? For example, how might the answer impact our relationships with clients (I’m using Carl Rogers’ term here). Who’s in charge of that?


And further, who’s in charge of the various stakeholders, and the emerging “business” itself?

Aside: I use the term “business” loosely, as it could emerge that we can best serve the needs of our various stakeholders as a charity, foundation, loose or tight network of affiliates, or any number of other forms of association. And although our emergent “association” might be essentially commercial, I’d like to explore all our options about how we might feed and water our association.

Enough for now. Looking forward to your responses. More next time.

– Bob

Further Reading

Reinventing Organizations ~ Frederic Laloux


The Care And Training of Your PET TEAM®


You are now the owner of a genuine, pedigreed PET TEAM®


© 1975
Team Bottom® Productions

Item 1

Your new team is a very sensitive pet and may be slightly traumatized from all the handling and shipping required in bringing you all together. While you may look in on your new pet from time to time, it is essential that you leave your team in its shipping container for a few days. It is advised that you set the container in an area of your office that is to become your PET TEAM’s “special place”. Some PET TEAM owners have found that the rasp of an old dot-matrix printer operating near the shipping container has a soothing effect; especially at night. It takes most PET TEAMS exactly two weeks days to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. After ten working days have passed you may remove the team from its shipping container and begin enjoying your new pet.


If, when you remove the team from its shipping container, its members appears to be excited, place them on some old newspapers. The team will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction. They will remain on the paper until you remove them.


Your PET TEAM And You

Your PET TEAM will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come. Teams enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part – at least not on your PET TEAM’s account. Once you have transcended the awkward training stage your team will mature into a faithful, obedient, loving pet with but one purpose in life – to be at your side when you want, and to go lie down when you don’t. A PET TEAM is perfect for people who hate animals, are allergic to animals, or who are not allowed to keep animals. When you own a PET TEAM you never have problems with leash law violations, you’ll never have to clean up nasty messes, and your pet will never keep you and the management awake at night. PET TEAMS are welcome everywhere.

Know Your Team

Your PET TEAM didn’t come out of any old Team factory, you know. There is nothing common about genuine, pedigreed PET TEAMS. They descend from a long line of famous teams. Their ancestors can be found amongst the workers of the pyramids; the slaves of Ancient Rome; and the plantations of the Caribbean and Southern States. PET TEAMS descend in one unbroken line that can be traced back to the beginning of time and even farther. PET TEAMS are found with the aid of a specially-trained Team Hound. They are then examined for congenital defects prior to intelligence evaluations. Only teams that have demonstrated a strong capacity for learning and obedience are allowed to wear the name PET TEAM. Upon passing initial tests they are prepared for shipping, packed into their cartons and sent throughout the world to anxious owners.


Your team is a one of a kind.

There Are Hundreds Of Breeds Of Teams

Of the hundreds of breeds of teams known to Man, only a few show the necessary aptitude required of a PET TEAM. The more important traits associated with genuine PET TEAMS are gentle disposition, eagerness to please, and a profound sense of responsibility.

Initial Training

Nobody, but nobody likes a surly, misbehaving team. Therefore, it is most important that you begin training immediately. Your PET TEAM should be made to know who is the boss, and that you will demand certain good manners and impeccable behavior if you are to all have a happy, well adjusted relationship.

A few of the more popular breeds.

Limit your training sessions to fifteen minutes, twice each day. One half-hour session is not recommended as a team’s attention span is rather short. Remember; a bored team is an unhappy team. The first section of this training manual will address itself to simple obedience—COME, SIT, STAY, etc. Amusing tricks will be covered in Section Two. No special equipment is required in training your new PET TEAM. Amazingly, a team is one of the few pets that will respond to training without the aid of leash or choke chain. First, select a special training area. Use the same area for all training sessions until your team is showing good progress.

SECTION ONE Simple obedience


It is essential that your PET TEAM learn this command. A team that doesn’t come when it’s called will cause its owner endless embarrassment.

Command gently but firmly.

It is assumed that you have given your PET TEAM a name by now. If you have not, do so before proceeding with obedience training. To teach the command COME, place your team on the floor or carpet and take a few steps backward. Next, bending over from the waist, place your hands upon your knees and face your team. Now, with firm authority, say, COME CODESTARS. (If you have not named your team CodeStars you may wish to say something else.) Repeat the command, COME CODESTARS. Assuming your team is normal it will probably not respond. Start again. Bending over from the waist, face your team, clap your hands, and let your face light up as you say, COME CODESTARS, C’MON GUYS, OVER HERE, and stuff like that. Now, start walking slowly toward your team. Incredibly, as you walk toward your team you will notice that it actually is coming closer. This means your PET TEAM is learning the command, COME. Praise your team and give them pats of approval.



Many PET TEAMS have tremendous difficulty learning the command, COME. PET TEAM owners have complained that their teams were stupid, dimwitted and slow because of it. Well, this is ridiculous. To be sure, training a team to come when it’s called requires extraordinary patience. It is a rare team indeed that will leap into its master’s arms the first time it hears the command. And, while it takes quite a while to train a team to come when its name is called, the problem lies not in the team’s inability to learn commands; the problem lies in the fact that a team has an extremely hard time learning its name. Be patient, calm and gentle.


The next command to teach your team is STAY. It is very important that your PET TEAM learn this command as it is disconcerting to have a team that will wander around while you are in a meeting or having a massage. Return to your training area and set your team upon the floor or ground. Look at your team intently, like you really mean business, and give the command, STAY. Surprisingly, most teams have no difficulty learning this command and respond quite obediently the first time they hear it. Repeat the command, STAY, and slowly back away from your team. If your team should move, and this is highly unlikely, shout the command while gesturing dramatically with the palm of your outstretched hand. In no time at all your PET TEAM will be responding to this obedience command each and every time. With further patience you can train your team to STAY by using only the hand signal.


This is not a difficult command to teach a PET TEAM as most teams spend the bulk of their time sitting around anyway. However, a refresher course is certainly in order since you will want your team to sit when you want them to, not when they want to. Place your team in its training area and give the command, SIT. Many teams will attempt to deceive you by lying down, thinking that you won’t know the difference. This should not be encouraged If you say, SIT, then your team PET TEAM should sit and that’s all there is to it. Here is a simple method to ensure your PET TEAM always obeys your commands: Repeat the order, SIT, and slowly walk away from your team. Now, hide in another office and, from time to time, peek in on your team to make sure they haven’t moved. If they lie down, when they should be sitting, storm into the room and shout, BAD TEAM, BAD TEAM Your PET TEAM will know it has displeased you and will return to the sitting position. It will also know who’s the boss.

Once your PET TEAM learns the command, SIT, add the command, STAY. Your team will now remain sitting until further notice.


It would be cruel to leave your team in the sitting position forever. Therefore, it is necessary that you teach it the command, DOWN. After sitting for a long period of time your team will appreciate the chance to relax. It is also nice, when you have e.g. visiting clients, to own a PET TEAM that will lie, unobtrusively and lovingly, at your feet. Teaching the command, DOWN, is best accomplished in conjunction with the command, SIT. After your PET team has been in the sitting position for a while, give it the command, DOWN. If you’ve made a big fuss about your team sitting properly they may be reluctant to move. Place your foot upon your team and push each on in turn firmly into the carpet or dirt. It won’t take long before your team understands what you want them to do. DOWN is another of the training commands that most teams respond to with a minimum of teaching.

It is in a PET TEAM’s nature that it learns to get down so easily. Praise your team and give them all a gentle, reassuring hug.


You’re a little confused if you think a PET TEAM can be taught to STAND. There is no f-e-e-t in t-e-a-m.


It is extremely unusual to see a team strolling around unaccompanied – there’s a very good reason for this. Most PET TEAM owners have had the patience and good judgment to teach the command, HEEL

To teach your PET TEAM to HEEL, simply follow these easy steps. First, place your PET TEAM on the floor or carpet directly behind your right heel. Next, give the command, HEEL, and stand absolutely still. Slowly, without moving your feet, turn and look down at your team. You will be both pleased and amazed to see they are still there, right where you want them be, directly behind your right heel. Your PET TEAM has learned the command. Praise your team.

SECTION TWO Amusing Tricks

Few pets are more anxious to please their masters than are PET TEAMS. It is surprisingly easy to teach your team cute tricks that will entertain you and your peers for hours.

Roll Over

Your PET TEAM will learn this trick the very first time you give them a lesson. That statement may be hard to believe but it is, nevertheless, quite true. The best place to teach your PET TEAM to ROLL OVER is on a relatively steep slope, or failing that, your office. Place your team on the floor at the top of the slope and, still holding on to them, give the command, ROLL OVER. Now, let go of your team. It’s that simple!

Your team will roll end-over-end and will not stop until they tire of the game. PET TEAMS usually get tired of the game when they reach the bottom of the slope. Follow your team to the bottom of the slope and praise them profusely. This praise will make your PET TEAM very happy and they will repeat the trick as soon as you return them to the top of the slope. You will tire of this trick long before your PET TEAM does.

Performing its first trick.

Play Dead

Your PET TEAM will take to this trick like a duck takes to water. It is one of the most entertaining tricks a team can learn, and a trick that is sure to get many affectionate laughs and approving glances from you and your peers. Take your PET TEAM to its training area and, when you have their undivided attention, give the command, PLAY DEAD. If your team is like most teams it will not have to be told more than once. Immediately, it will go completely limp as though shot through the head, and will remain in this posture until you give a different command. Teams enjoy this trick so much that often, when you’re not even looking, they’ll actually practice it on their own. It’s not unusual to walk into a room and see a PET TEAM playing dead.

Shake Hands

Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t teach a team to shake hands.


PET TEAMS really enjoy their food and drink, but, as nearly everyone knows, they are atrocious nutritionists. Therefore, teaching your team to eat well and drink plenty of water is very important. To do this, first find e.g. a pizzeria or company canteen. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS TRICK IN AN EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT. Hold your team firmly in hand, give the command, EAT, and stand well back. More often than not, and depending upon your nimbleness, your PET TEAM will eat happily until they’re stuffed. If your Team does not make it happily through all the items of the menu, it may be terminally ill. If that happens, you’ll be needing a new one. Too bad.


To teach your PET TEAM to FETCH, declare a challenging BHAG or stretch goal. Next, send your PET TEAM after it. Rarely, if ever, will your PET TEAM return with the goal completed, but that’s the way it goes.

Attack Training

A PET TEAM is a loyal, devoted pet that can easily be trained to protect you and your company. Woe be to the competitor or other teams who venture into the offices guarded by a PET TEAM – or the client or supplier who attempts to cross a PET TEAM’s master. There are two basic attack methods to teach your PET TEAM.

1) Long Distance Attacks
2) Close Range Attacks

Long Distance Attacks

In those instances when your adversary is at a distance (such as when another manager finagles your budget and keeps laughing about it from their own offices), your PET TEAM will respond to the challenge instantly and effectively in assuring that it never happens again. First, clear the rage form your brow. Next, pick up your PET TEAM. Shout the command, ATTACK , and send your team to the swine’s office with all speed. This method of protection is sure-fire and results are guaranteed, although you may want to practice your plausible denial abilities before attempting this manoeuvre.

Close Range Attacks

If you are threatened at close range always use the Close Range Attack Method; it is the ultimate form of personal protection. The element of surprise enters into this attack method, thereby making it doubly effective.


When the adversary approaches within arm’s length and demands all your staff, budgets and other valuables, follow these easy steps: Reach for your laptop or mobile phone as though you were going to comply with your adversary’s demands. Summon your PET TEAM. Shout the command, ATTACK. And together bash your adversary’s head in. PET TEAMS really seem to enjoy this exercise and, in most cases, come away from the attack little the worse for wear.


Owners of Attack Trained PET TEAMS have a responsibility to society to use their dangerous pets for protection only, and not for instigating trouble of any kind.

Health Care

A healthy team is a happy team, everybody knows that It is, therefore, extremely important that you learn health care and emergency first aid techniques as they regard your PET TEAM. PET TEAMS are, to be sure, quite hardy. However, an occasional accident or disease may befall your team and you should know how to care for it. Also, visits to the company nurse’s station can be very time-consuming. Here are some of the more serious problems that can befall a PET TEAM, along with instructions for their cures.

A team in perfect health. A team in obvious distress.

Rock Bottom

If your PET TEAM appears nervous and fidgety, it’s a better than even chance it’s suffering from dreaded Rock Bottom. No other disease is as debilitating to PET TEAM as Rock Bottom. The first symptoms are manifested in an almost unbelievable forgetfulness. Your PET TEAM will not remember a single command or trick. All the hours of training will be forgotten. It will be the saddest day of your life. From simple loss of memory it gets worse. So bad in fact, that we won’t go into it here. Suffice to say that, should your PET TEAM contract Rock Bottom, get a new PET TEAM immediately. There is no known cure.

Teams in the wild

Perhaps you have seen a particular team in the wild and thought it would make a nice pet. DO NOT APPROACH THAT TEAM. This is to be discouraged. Wild teams can give you nothing but headaches. They can be surly, vicious, and unpredictable. They are nearly impossible to domesticate and show practically no learning abilities whatsoever. There’s an old saying in team circles, “Once a wild team, always a wild team.” A genuine, pedigreed PET TEAM will make a much more suitable companion.

In Closing

As the owner of a PET TEAM you have assumed a responsibility to love and care for this new addition to your family. If your team should misbehave, be patient. If it should cause you problems, be forgiving. Under no circumstances should you turn your PET TEAM loose. The world is already overcrowded with discarded, unwanted teams, and millions must be destroyed each year. These poor, unfortunate teams meet brutal ends in death marches, financial and government organisations, or as land fill. Don’t allow your PET TEAM to meet an untimely demise at the bottom of an obscure pile of ordure. Remember; if you take care of your PET TEAM, your PET TEAM will take care of you.

© 1975
Team Bottom® Productions

How To Connect With Folks’ Needs

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

My key focus as a therapist is providing the wherewithal through which folks can conduct their own inner dialogues. That’s to say, providing an opportunity, a time, a space, for folks to each have a conversation with their own self. And in a group setting – my more common scenario – for the folks in a group or team to have conversations with and amongst themselves.


I find that many groups and teams – and I hear this applies to individuals too – rarely have any kind of meaningful, purposeful or skilful internal dialogue. So, rarely does a group explore its needs, or the needs of its members. And even more rarely, in any kind of effective way.


When I’m working with a group, I’m looking for opportunities to open up their internal dialogue and allow it to flourish. Assuming that’s what they want, of course. I say working, but ideally it’s not work but rather play. Playfully looking for opportunities to support the group’s needs for effective internal reflection, play, sharing, connection and mindfulness.

It’s Mostly About Them

I’m way less focussed on me understanding their needs, and way more focussed on helping them uncover, surface, explore and accept their feelings and needs, for and amongst themselves.

“The kind of caring that the client-centered therapist desires to achieve is a gullible caring, in which clients are accepted as they say they are, not with a lurking suspicion in the therapist’s mind that they may, in fact, be otherwise. This attitude is not stupidity on the therapist’s part; it is the kind of attitude that is most likely to lead to trust…”

~ Carl R. Rogers

And to myself, I generally ask: “How can I best provide a relationship through which the folks in this group or team may best connect with – and thereby attend to – their own personal and collective needs?”

– Bob

Further Reading

Attending To The Needs Of Others ~ FlowChainSensei
On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View Of Psychotherapy ~ Carl R. Rogers



We Know Not What We Do


I love to see folks interacting compassionately with each other. Eschewing judgement. Looking for what’s alive in one another. Helping each other grow in spirit. It would be fair to describe that as something I need.

Most times when I’m with an established group of people however, I find that need not getting met. Most times, I feel sad at the subtle, unwitting violence implicit in folks’ interactions. Violence in terms of judgmentalism, not least.

Over the past two or three years I’ve been working on weaning myself off judgmentalism. I sense I have a long way to go still, but in my journey I note four stages I have passed through so far:


A blindness to the world of judgement in which we all live. An absence of awareness of the effects it’s having on our relationships and social cohesion. And an unwitting participation in continually passing moralistic judgments on just about anyone and everyone we encounter.


When awareness dawns, it can kindle a burning desire to do something about it. When I was in this stage I continually beat myself up (judged myself a failing person) for my lack of non-judgmentalism and my inability to produce non-judgmental thoughts and actions. This stage often also brings a burning passion to proselytise e.g. non-violence, and convert others to the non-judgmental path.


After a time, the flame dies, to be replaced with an an airy nonchalance. With sangfroid. With equanimity. But I found this stage a little forced. a little delusional. Yes, I was acutely aware of the times I was making moralistic judgements. And yes, I could interrupt that line of thought and not act on the judgment – by saying or doing something, for example. Yet my judgments of people still bothered me. Still triggered negative thoughts. Still caused me angst. And maybe folks sensed that, even as I tried to suppress it.


I guess I’m just turning the corner into this stage. Here I find I’m easier with others and their way of being. I find it much easier to just be present and list without judgement. I still find myself conscious of the judgments my mind is still making, but the resulting angst is lessening. I’m bothered less, about what people do and how they are. And interrupted responses are fewer, and weaker.

I suspect there are more stages yet to come (wry smile).


For all my progress, or maybe because of it, I find myself ill at ease in group situations where the dynamics and customs of the group reflect the “water” stage. It makes me feel uneasy to see folks doing casual violence to each other, and unwittingly alienating each other, often contrary to their declared purpose for being a group in the first place.

For example, I was a guest of a warmly welcoming local Toastmasters group last night. The stated aims of the group are to help people with public speaking in a safe and friendly environment. And yet the Toastmasters “rituals” – at least as interpreted by this group, and seen through the lens of nonviolence – seem to me to undermine those aims. Specifically:

  • Judgment
  • Competition
  • Constructive criticism
  • Advice
  • Etc.

Are there ways of being as a group that could avoid these undermining behaviours? That could bring more joy to folks’ interactions and building of relationships? I believe so. Maybe the rituals have to change. Or maybe just their interpretation. I would love to see some nonviolence principles come into play (sic):

  • Nonviolent feedback rather than judgment
  • Playing together rather than competing with each other
  • Sharing needs (met or not met) rather than providing “evaluations”
  • Empathy rather than advice
  • Etc.

I guess this would help get my needs met more effectively. And the needs of the folks in the group, too, perhaps.

How do you feel about the dynamics of the groups of which you choose to be a part? Could you imagine more joy, more joyful interactions, deeper and more human relationships? Would you be willing to consider what you could do, both yourself and in concert, to help that happen?

– Bob


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