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E248 | Fixing Fractured Relationships To Build Trust Within Teams with Doug Bouey

Is there any fractured relationship in your team? Many teams have people with dysfunctional relationships that show up in different ways. Often people find it difficult to solve problems. Somehow we find ourselves with a breach of trust, breach of contract or competence. We believe one of our colleagues isn’t competent, and it grows like an inverted pearl in an oyster or stone in your shoe. When this happens, people move away from those relationships or change companies. But if business is a team sport, it’s like taking the field to play football with only nine players against the opposition because some people on your team have a dysfunctional relationship.

This week we talked with and learned from Doug Bouey, a coaching and facilitation veteran, recognised by Vistage/ TEC. His newest book, Fixing Fractures, creates a sure path to peace of mind and a quiet heart. Like Dominic, Doug holds a Gazelle’s (now Scaling Up) International qualification. He’s a master coach and, as part of his Vistage Chair life, Doug came across a facilitation technique to fix fractured relationships in business and life. So, he wrote his book Fixing Fractures, to help teams or individuals overcome these breaches of trust and help them build a high-performing team. 

In this episode, Doug guides us through his technique to help teams have these types of conversations and overcome this issue in their relationship. He explains the different levels or ‘gates’ of trust and how he helps individuals in businesses get to the bottom of their problems and what are the ‘Magic Five’ that need to be present during these ‘healing’ conversations.

Download and listen to learn more.

On today’s podcast: 

  • Fixing Fractures
  • How to fix dysfunctional relationships
  • Understanding the breaches of trust in teams
  • Team building workshops
  • The Magic Five

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Fixing Fractures

Having Difficult Conversations To Fix Dysfunctional Relationships

Doug’s history of working the Fixing Fractures methods in business has created exceptional Executive Team solidarity that allows their plans to be reliably put into effect. It has been applied in many different business arenas.  

Doug Bouey spent much of his time mentoring presidents and senior executives, guiding their leadership development, primarily through TEC Canada, a branch of Vistage International. Now he spends the bulk of his time writing and creating video courses, passing on the lessons of a lifetime of development and study for the benefit of a large audience.

Doug has extended into large-scale organisations with a focus now on skill and capacity development for very senior executives. The result? High-impact value creation through strong advances in communication, culture, and strategic thinking.

Calgary-based, Doug’s previous life was in a successful law practice, primarily as an innovator in the then-emerging field of Native Law. He taught Negotiation and Counselling to the second year U of C Law Class for many years and was Lawyer in Residence. Holder of an M-A in Organisational Development from the Fielding Graduate University, he regards his work as helping the Good Folks win.

Why Fixing Fractures

After being trained in the methodology and practising it over his many years of consulting, Doug thought it was incredibly impactful. Over the last years, he felt the need to get it down into writing so that the learnings passed by his mentor, the legendary Vistage Chair, John Konstaturos, did not die with him. 

People have differences with each other, from rifts to feuds, or they’re simply at odds with each other. Doug finds that the difference usually starts with some kind of unfortunate remark or unfortunate situation that people regret later, and it just never gets dealt with, never gets healed. It’s like a stone in your shoe. It keeps getting worse, it makes blisters, and you start limping.

“So many people just go down that slide of alienation and end up being really at odds with another person. And sometimes this happens, as you know, in business, where we’ve got people who are heads of divisions and they just don’t get along. And the problem is they’ve had this incident between them that has fractured them.”

What might be incidental for one person, could be devastating for another, says Doug. People have sensitive points of contact, and you can’t know that as another person, but it’s pretty hard not to notice the cascade of alienation. 

The importance of letting go

“Good people have a real conscience. There are sociopaths who don’t seem to have a conscience, but most good people really are troubled by these things, and they’ve tried to paper it over, they’ve tried to forget about it, they’ve tried to move on, and it really doesn’t work. It sticks.” 

When you can’t let go of something, it becomes like a seed that builds an inverse pearl, explains Doug. It’s something that people just seem to be willing to do an unlimited number of deviations in order to avoid dealing with it. 

“Everyone should have these skills because we are dealing with differences with people all the time. They should recognise this cascade of alienation and start to intervene early rather than let it harden and ossify into a real rift. But that often tends to be what happens. And there are significant consequences, as you know from your business experience, in the lack of collaboration, the lost opportunity, the low morale. It’s a terrible, toxic business.”

Millions are lost every day because of bad team performance. Business is a sport, and you wouldn’t deliberately go on the football pitch with nine players against eleven. You’ll lose. And yet, people do it all the time in business. We seem to be wired to avoid difficult conversations, says Doug. But once we face them, we feel absolutely transcendent. 

“People say this all the time. ‘God, I feel like that huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders’. So before that, they were carrying that weight really for no reason other than – if you’re talking about what are the origins of this in psychology– ego protection. The person is just trying to protect their sense of, no, I was right, this was appropriate and correct what I did. Or they construct scans of defensive postures and walls around these issues to avoid taking full personal accountability for what happened.”

How the team-building workshops work

The idea behind the workshops is that a team is fragmented because the people who are part of it had issues with each other; they’ve collided with each other. Doug admits that people might regret getting invited to these workshops, but they appreciate being on them afterwards. Because they get to resolve things and the vision in the organisation starts to flow almost automatically.

“They’ve had a breach of trust with each other and they’ve never resolved it. And so that has built this kind of fragmented team. It’s not a team. It’s just a working group.”

For Doug, going through this is central to getting value from his book. If people treat the book or his upcoming video course as just information, they’re not as valuable until you take it and apply it to a real situation that they start to really get into it and notice what the process can do. And every step you take along the way to resolving one of these issues is a constructive step.

If you want to know how Doug’s workshop works, you can find the step-by-step in his book, Fixing Fractures. There are eight steps that you undertake in an orchestrated, scripted conversation. So we talk about the coming together of four elements. One is this protocol, the step-by-step approach. The second is the relationship mindset, which is a particular orientation to the way you’re going to hold yourself as you address this issue. 

“If you’re allowing your ego to run full flood, there’s no chance you’re ever going to have this situation resolved. And if you don’t learn how to listen to other people acutely and openly again, you’re not going to make it.”

The other elements are the flow, which is that this process is orchestrated. It’s not a casual conversation. There is a chairman that’s the initiator, and they actually lead this discussion with notes. And the notes they do are constructed in the prework. So everybody does prework.

“Those four elements, when they are brought together, underpin the success of the approach and really without all of them, it doesn’t work because as we’ve been hinting, these are really delicate. They’re not just ham-handed smash-and-grab kind of talks.”

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Great teams have a code of very constructive behaviour. If they are a really good team, they rely on each other, and they hold each other accountable. And when you start to have this fragmentation because of these underlying issues, the whole foundation of that behavioural code that makes for constructive working together starts to crumble.

The gates of trust

If we have a full belt of trust, the team is committed to a common purpose. Doug explains that there are five bases for breach of trust. The moment that there’s a breach of trust the valve of co-commitment throttles down, and there’s just less going through the pipe. Then, everybody else starts to go and focus on their own personal stuff, separating from the common purpose.

So, what are the five levels of trust?

First, is the trust of contract. This is not the letter of the contract, but its spirit. So, if you have to look at the actual contract, there is no trust of contract, says Doug. Then, there’s the trust of intention, which means ‘we’re here for the common purpose’. The next is the trust of involvement, that is that you’re going to give your complete effort to something. This type of trust is breached when you say you’re going to do something when you know you actually won’t do it. Another level of trust is the trust of competence. 

“They’re all over the place because of their absence or their presence, but the trust of competence is just ‘do you feel the other person has the skill and ability and the presence to be able to pull off their part in what we’re up to here?’“

Doug says if you really have doubts about their competence, you’re going to backstop them or work around them. For each of these gates of trust, there’s a corresponding strategy in which you can detect that it’s being throttled back.

Getting to the bottom of the problem

Doug used to run these workshops in a more direct way. He would go to an organisation and would try to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it with alignment. He would ask who were the individuals that have the beef, carry out individual interviews and find out. So, they’d go into a workshop with an inventory of 20 fragmenting incidents between people and then we just start working through them.

Doug would designate two roles in the meeting: the initiator and the VIP. He says this is always done in pairs, not multiples, as there would be too many things flying around. 

“And the whole idea is we have this sequence of topics in the discussion that make sure that all the way through a very difficult question, they are able to track with and not fragment when they’re facing each other.”

The whole purpose of this orchestrated conversation is to bring people up to this very, very sensitive point while in command of themselves, capable without being blown away. And when you can do that, then you can approach the most difficult questions and resolve them, ads Doug.

“You have to know that apology is one of the things that you must consider. Offering an apology after a couple of years of having built walls up around this thing, it better be sincere. It better be completely forthright.”

The Magic Five

Doug worked with two brothers that were at the head of a large fabrication company. They were at opposite ends of an office building and hadn’t spoken to each other willingly in two years. One brother is the engineering guy, and the other guy’s the charmer, tells Doug. One of the incidents that they’d run across happened when they felt that they needed better senior leadership. But one brother found and recruited a COO and railroaded him in past the other brother, who felt deeply that this COO was counter-cultural. And he was right. And that was where they’d broken. So when they did the workshop, we had to go right to the heart of that, what happened; who needs to take accountability and who needs to get into what Doug calls the Magic Five.

“And we often talk in the book about the Magic Five because these are very old-fashioned ways to reconcile these problems. And almost always the lack of them is at the root of one of these deeply fragmenting issues. So it was just a question of whether the one brother could bring himself past his ego to do it, but he needed to apologise to his brother for doing that.”

So, what are the magic five? Those are things that need to be present during these ‘healing’ conversations. The first one is apologies. The second is acknowledgement. That is, admitting to what you’ve done and acknowledging that that must have hurt the other person. The third of the magic five is amends, “What can I do to make this right?”. It might not be a complete restoration, but it might be a very important symbol. 

But the big one of the Magic 5 is forgiveness. If a person can be forgiven for something that they’ve done that has really put the other off, it releases the forgiver. The person who’s holding the resentment is the person who’s carrying the burden.

“All we’re trying to do is bring people to the point where basic human nature can be exerted in its best possible way and the effect of it can help. All we’re trying to do with this organised conversation is bring them to that point where they’re talking fully, wholly without reservation. They’re not fragmented or reserved, hurt or distracted in some way.”

100% to 0% accountability

Doug clarifies that one of the real ‘acid tests’ of this workshop happens in step four of the protocol, which is that the initiator should take 100% to 0% accountability for the incident having occurred. 

So if you’re coming forward to someone that you really care about, but with whom you’re at odds, you’d want them to do so in a way that will resolve this. Doug explains that the way to do that is at a critical point in the conversation. During the discussion, they would focus on a single incident. The initiator would need to admit full responsibility for the whole incident. They wouldn’t leave anything over the table for the VIP to own. By this time, ads Doug, the VIP is admitting that he had a part in the incident too. 

“Let me tell you how many ways there were that I set this up so that it just had to happen this way. And what’s really interesting is of course this is the dismantling of the ego protection on the part of the initiator. And when they do that they, in effect, take away all the ammunition that the other person is going to use against them. They got nothing left. If they’ve done this right now, we’re just going to have to deal”. 

Book recommendations 

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone

The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

The Status Game by Will Storr

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