Forbes-Pandoras-Box

There is a well-known Greek myth that goes something like this: The gods, being characteristically devious, gave a beautiful container to Pandora, one of the first humans. They told her she could have the box but was never to open it. Of course, human curiosity led her to disobey the order. When she opened the box, all of the chaos and hardships of the world were released into our lives. This is where we get the term “Pandora’s box.”

Myths like these were tools for the Greeks to better understand what it means to be human. The myth of Pandora’s box neither causes nor stops the chaos from happening, but it does remind us that, in some ways, our ancestors thousands of years ago were wrestling with the same predicament: Life can be chaotic.

In my organizational work, I use the term “Pandora’s box” to describe complex situations where unresolved, divisive points of view inflame interpersonal tensions. Basically, it describes those times when no one can agree on anything, nothing gets done and competition leads to political infighting — team chaos.

Usually, when I first sit down with a team that’s in Pandora’s box, I see a lot of frustrated faces — and an expectation or hope that I’ll be the one who fixes it. I’ll hear equally convincing and sometimes conflicting perspectives about the right way forward. Everyone is sure they’re right.

Unfortunately for them, there isn’t always a simple fix. The challenge can lie in how they’re approaching the situation in the first place.

The first step we take on is helping the team see that they’re in Pandora’s box.

In the spirit of myths, there is a famous leadership parable where six blind men touch different parts of an elephant. They then each describe the elephant’s body based on what they feel, convinced that their description is more accurate than anyone else’s. All of them are accurately describing the elephant — but just a part of it. Argument ensues.

The parable is meant to symbolize a team where people are attached to their own points of view. (And their point of view is absolutely justifiable from their perspective.) In order to get out of Pandora’s box, teams often need to be able to see the elephant for what it is, not just from their own perspective.

They also may need to see that the nature of their challenge is sometimes an adaptive problem, with no one technical fix. The ability to expand perspectives to include more becomes their work as adaptive leaders.

“Technical problems, while often challenging, can be solved applying existing know-how and the organization’s current problem-solving processes,” advise Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in “A Survival Guide For Leaders” published in the Harvard Business Review“Adaptive problems resist these kinds of solutions because they require individuals throughout the organization to alter their ways; as the people themselves are the problem, the solution lies with them.” (I wrote previously about the difference between adaptive and technical leadership problems.)

A team stuck in Pandora’s box is a team with an adaptive challenge: The people themselves are likely the problem; their fixed points of views are leading to the conflicts. To solve adaptive problems, Heifetz and Linsky recommend “getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony.” Basically, you may need to take a look, collectively, at the big picture. And then be willing to change how you work together with what you see.

How? It’s not always easy, but here are the pieces I work to instill in teams to help get them out of Pandora’s box:

1. A commitment to listening: This usually needs to be learned. Often, people think they’re listening when they’re really just waiting to talk. Everyone in a Pandora’s box situation may need to make, to the best of their ability, a commitment to put aside their own perspective and hear the validity of other points of view.

2. A willingness to admit that it’s not clear what the problem really is: I recommend taking a flip chart and spending some time writing out everyone’s concerns and compiling them into one clear list. This should be exhaustive, to the point where everyone can agree that there’s nothing left to say. Now you’re starting to look at the problem objectively, and it’s probably a lot more complex than anyone realized.

3. The freedom to speak openly and honestly: Speaking of elephants, how often does a meeting end with the elephant in the room still not mentioned? Name the elephant. If people aren’t willing to say the truth, they perpetuate Pandora’s box.

4. Adaptation: Adaptation has sustained the survival of our speciesfor millennia. We’re quite good at it — when we’re willing to do it. This sometimes means giving up our points of view and finding new ways of working together. It’s easier said than done, I know.

I highly recommend using facilitators to help navigate your team or organization’s Pandora’s box. Even the most self-aware and objective leaders can still be inside the box. A nonattached perspective can be invaluable when objectivity is hard to find.

When looking for a facilitator, look for someone outside of your team who can offer an objective perspective. Whether this person is inside or outside of your organization, find someone who is comfortable with discomfort, has the ability to hold multiple points of view at once and is a great teacher.

Justin Follin
Justin Follin is a founding partner and CEO at BLUECASE Strategic Partners. He is a CEO coach and organizational consultant with primary expertise in the areas of visionary leadership development, cross-functional strategic leadership, solving complex adaptive challenges and innovation. He is the primary designer of the BLUECASE Leadership Development Process for fast-scaling, mid-market companies and M&A environments. He has led hundreds of Executives, Directors, and Managers through cross-functional leadership development and has coached public and private CEOs, business leaders, TEDx presenters, academic professors, musicians, and athletes to perform at optimal levels. He has also designed or executed leadership development and consulting approaches delivered inside some of the world’s largest oil and gas, construction, and mining companies.
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Justin Follin
Justin Follin is a founding partner and CEO at BLUECASE Strategic Partners. He is a CEO coach and organizational consultant with primary expertise in the areas of visionary leadership development, cross-functional strategic leadership, solving complex adaptive challenges and innovation. He is the primary designer of the BLUECASE Leadership Development Process for fast-scaling, mid-market companies and M&A environments. He has led hundreds of Executives, Directors, and Managers through cross-functional leadership development and has coached public and private CEOs, business leaders, TEDx presenters, academic professors, musicians, and athletes to perform at optimal levels. He has also designed or executed leadership development and consulting approaches delivered inside some of the world’s largest oil and gas, construction, and mining companies.
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Christine Trevino
Christine Trevino is Chief Operating Officer and efficiency extraordinaire at BLUECASE Strategic Partners. She has a strong commitment to ensuring our processes create an exceptional experience for our clients and our internal team. After spending nearly a decade within one of the nation’s largest health systems, Christine knows the foundational infrastructure necessary for operational efficiency, conflict management, resolution strategies and creating connections to truly understand what is wanted and needed and how to best accomplish it, whether supporting the business or supporting people. Christine has served in other mission focused organizations, like Texas Exes (Hook Em’) and Whole Foods Market where she had the opportunity to be a servant leader and contribute to making an impact in the lives of others as she also does through our work at BLUECASE. Christine is married to her high school sweetheart and they have five children. She enjoys the outdoors, photography and volunteering in various organizations.
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David B. Greenspan
David Greenspan, Ph.D., is the Founder of BLUECASE Strategic Partners. He has a PH.D. in High-Performance Psychology with expertise in why certain individuals and teams perform at exceptional levels, even in suboptimal circumstances. BLUECASE facilitates strategic planning and teaches managers and executives at fast-growing companies how to create seamless cross-functional collaboration, feedback-rich cultures, and high levels of engagement. An expert in creating high-performance corporate cultures and teams, David is an energizing leader, coach, and facilitator known for his capacity to galvanize groups to generate breakthrough results. David has over fifteen years of experience working with senior executives at Fortune 100 companies and executive teams of fast-growing PE-backed companies with between $50 Million and $2 Billion in annual revenue. Notable clients include ESO, Vida Capital, Intersys, Four Hands, AffiniPay, Logix, University of Texas, Maidbot, Bypass Mobile, Austin Fitness Group/Orange Theory Fitness, Kerbey Lane Cafe, ShippingEasy, Triangle Services, Allegiance Mobile Health, and YPO.
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David B. Greenspan
David Greenspan, Ph.D., is the Founder of BLUECASE Strategic Partners. He has a PH.D. in High-Performance Psychology with expertise in why certain individuals and teams perform at exceptional levels, even in suboptimal circumstances. BLUECASE facilitates strategic planning and teaches managers and executives at fast-growing companies how to create seamless cross-functional collaboration, feedback-rich cultures, and high levels of engagement. An expert in creating high-performance corporate cultures and teams, David is an energizing leader, coach, and facilitator known for his capacity to galvanize groups to generate breakthrough results. David has over fifteen years of experience working with senior executives at Fortune 100 companies and executive teams of fast-growing PE-backed companies with between $50 Million and $2 Billion in annual revenue. Notable clients include ESO, Vida Capital, Intersys, Four Hands, AffiniPay, Logix, University of Texas, Maidbot, Bypass Mobile, Austin Fitness Group/Orange Theory Fitness, Kerbey Lane Cafe, ShippingEasy, Triangle Services, Allegiance Mobile Health, and YPO.
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Christel Frietsch
Christel Frietsch is the Operations Administrator at BLUECASE Strategic Partners. She has 30 years of administrative experience with expertise in scheduling, correspondence, logistics and project coordination. Prior to joining the BLUECASE team, she was the Director of Operations for an Austin based CPG healthy lifestyle company, an Executive Administrator for a land use consulting firm, and an Executive Assistant to the CEO of an international disease prevention and wellness company. Originally from Austin, TX, Christel graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry, and completed her minor study in Psychology. She is an IIN Certified Integrative Holistic Health Coach and an IPHM Certified Energy Healer. Christel currently lives in New Braunfels, TX with her partner and two rescued dogs. She enjoys spending time in nature, gardening and reading.
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Lori Darley
Lori brings nearly two decades of experience as a transformational coach and consultant and has worked extensively with leaders and C-suite executives in many industries. She coaches organizations from multi-national corporations, such as Ferro Chemical, a global cosmetics firm and a Fortune 500 “Class One” rail transportation company. She has also worked with a wide variety of entrepreneurial ventures and individuals in non-profits, manufacturing, financial services, management consulting, commercial real estate and the arts. Lori is a certified somatic coach, recognized by the Strozzi Institute, and a certified Peak Potentials trainer. Additional certifications include Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, Gallup Strengths-Finder, the Myers/Briggs Personality Assessment and the EQi-2 (an Emotional Intelligence assessment and 360 feedback model).
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Lori Darley
Lori brings nearly two decades of experience as a transformational coach and consultant and has worked extensively with leaders and C-suite executives in many industries. She coaches organizations from multi-national corporations, such as Ferro Chemical, a global cosmetics firm and a Fortune 500 “Class One” rail transportation company. She has also worked with a wide variety of entrepreneurial ventures and individuals in non-profits, manufacturing, financial services, management consulting, commercial real estate and the arts. Lori is a certified somatic coach, recognized by the Strozzi Institute, and a certified Peak Potentials trainer. Additional certifications include Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, Gallup Strengths-Finder, the Myers/Briggs Personality Assessment and the EQi-2 (an Emotional Intelligence assessment and 360 feedback model).
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Robin Knudsen
Robin combines 20 years of international corporate experience with that of leadership development to bring insight into creating diverse and inclusive cultures and improving how teams function. As a coach and facilitator, Robin has worked with a broad range of companies across industries from Fortune 100’s through to entrepreneurs and SME’s. Robin holds a BA from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters in Organization Development from St. Edward’s University. She is a certified executive coach, trained in NLP, HeartMath, and Reiki.
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Robin Knudsen
Robin combines 20 years of international corporate experience with that of leadership development to bring insight into creating diverse and inclusive cultures and improving how teams function. As a coach and facilitator, Robin has worked with a broad range of companies across industries from Fortune 100’s through to entrepreneurs and SME’s. Robin holds a BA from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters in Organization Development from St. Edward’s University. She is a certified executive coach, trained in NLP, HeartMath, and Reiki.
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Shawn Clark
Shawn Clark is a certified Executive Coach who brings extensive hands-on leadership experience to every coaching session. His business background includes senior leadership roles for mission-critical teams and initiatives with global Fortune 500 companies and U.S. Government agencies. Shawn delivers powerful, effective and efficient coaching experiences which enables his clients to achieve results that were previously unattainable. Shawn strives to ensure the coaching journey is a fulfilling and enjoyable experience loaded with exploration, discovery, creativity, growth and achievement.
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Shawn Clark
Shawn Clark is a certified Executive Coach who brings extensive hands-on leadership experience to every coaching session. His business background includes senior leadership roles for mission-critical teams and initiatives with global Fortune 500 companies and U.S. Government agencies. Shawn delivers powerful, effective and efficient coaching experiences which enables his clients to achieve results that were previously unattainable. Shawn strives to ensure the coaching journey is a fulfilling and enjoyable experience loaded with exploration, discovery, creativity, growth and achievement.
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Trish Perevich
Trish brings over 10 years of experience as an Executive Coach and has coached a range of professionals from emerging leaders to C-Suite Executives. Her experience includes individual and group coaching; design and delivery of corporate training and coaching programs; and facilitation of SVP and C-Level Peer Advisory Groups. Trish has worked with a range of organizations from startups to Enterprise Fortune 100 companies including Genentech/Roche, Google, NASA and the United States Airforce. She has served dozens of industries including technology, finance, life science, construction, healthcare, education and more. Supporting her experience is a BS Degree in Business/Marketing from The Rochester Institute of Technology. Trish holds the PCC coaching credential along with certificates in Conscious Business Coaching and Team Advantage Coaching. Outside of work Trish enjoys golf, hiking, yoga, fitness classes, cooking and travel.
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Trish Perevich
Trish brings over 10 years of experience as an Executive Coach and has coached a range of professionals from emerging leaders to C-Suite Executives. Her experience includes individual and group coaching; design and delivery of corporate training and coaching programs; and facilitation of SVP and C-Level Peer Advisory Groups. Trish has worked with a range of organizations from startups to Enterprise Fortune 100 companies including Genentech/Roche, Google, NASA and the United States Airforce. She has served dozens of industries including technology, finance, life science, construction, healthcare, education and more. Supporting her experience is a BS Degree in Business/Marketing from The Rochester Institute of Technology. Trish holds the PCC coaching credential along with certificates in Conscious Business Coaching and Team Advantage Coaching. Outside of work Trish enjoys golf, hiking, yoga, fitness classes, cooking and travel.
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Kan Yan
Kan has worked as an international humanitarian for the United Nations, a lawyer for the US Federal Courts, and a management consultant for McKinsey & Company where he consulted Fortune 500 clients across numerous industries with a focus on organizational health and leadership development. He has a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Masters of Law and Diplomacy from the Tufts Fletcher School.
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Kan Yan
Kan has worked as an international humanitarian for the United Nations, a lawyer for the US Federal Courts, and a management consultant for McKinsey & Company where he consulted Fortune 500 clients across numerous industries with a focus on organizational health and leadership development. He has a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Masters of Law and Diplomacy from the Tufts Fletcher School.
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Paulin Laberge
Paulin has co-founded two technology companies and has served as CEO of five. After more than 30 years of senior leadership roles in the technology industry, Paulin recently made the transition from running companies to helping teams grow their companies. His most recent engagement was as CEO of iCompass Technologies, a SaaS company that delivers solutions that strengthen open and efficient government, and which resulted in a successful exit at the end of 2017. He has been an advisor and mentor to numerous technology companies. Paulin has firsthand experience in building organizations, developing effective strategies, securing financing, developing market-leading products, establishing strategic alliances, marketing, and selling domestically and internationally. He has worked with boards and management teams to help them precisely execute critical corporate objectives and business strategies, create performance-centric cultures, and engaged, motivated teams, focused on driving results. Paulin has been an Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Columbia Innovation Council, where he established a province-wide mentor program. He was also actively involved in the development and delivery of growth, strategy, and market validation programs widely used by several technology accelerators. Paulin started his career as an Electrical Engineer after graduating from the University of Alberta. Throughout his career, Paulin has trained in numerous areas including, strategy, finance, sales, marketing, negotiations, organizational development, mentoring, and coaching. He resides with his wife, Lea, and their dog Huxley, on the west coast near Vancouver, BC.
Senior Strategic Planning Consultant
Paulin Laberge
Paulin has co-founded two technology companies and has served as CEO of five. After more than 30 years of senior leadership roles in the technology industry, Paulin recently made the transition from running companies to helping teams grow their companies. His most recent engagement was as CEO of iCompass Technologies, a SaaS company that delivers solutions that strengthen open and efficient government, and which resulted in a successful exit at the end of 2017. He has been an advisor and mentor to numerous technology companies. Paulin has firsthand experience in building organizations, developing effective strategies, securing financing, developing market-leading products, establishing strategic alliances, marketing, and selling domestically and internationally. He has worked with boards and management teams to help them precisely execute critical corporate objectives and business strategies, create performance-centric cultures, and engaged, motivated teams, focused on driving results. Paulin has been an Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Columbia Innovation Council, where he established a province-wide mentor program. He was also actively involved in the development and delivery of growth, strategy, and market validation programs widely used by several technology accelerators. Paulin started his career as an Electrical Engineer after graduating from the University of Alberta. Throughout his career, Paulin has trained in numerous areas including, strategy, finance, sales, marketing, negotiations, organizational development, mentoring, and coaching. He resides with his wife, Lea, and their dog Huxley, on the west coast near Vancouver, BC.
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Lisa Jaecklein
Lisa is well known in high tech industries for her work in developing and leading high-performance teams. She has “walked the talk” as President and CEO for private and public engineering based companies in Satellite Communications, Telecom and Commercial Enterprise markets. Lisa’s corporate background includes leading an IPO, Strategic Planning, Mergers and Acquisitions and integration of global teams. She draws from her diverse market experience and passion for coaching to support professional development of executives and senior management teams. Her focus areas include supporting development/ refinement of strategic plans, executive coaching to advance leadership capabilities and organization alignment necessary to support strategy implementation. Lisa brings a unique understanding of the interdependencies of people and business that drives results and ways to sustain a positive level of energy in her clients personal and professional lives. Lisa holds a BS in Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco and has served as Director on a number of corporate and not for profit Boards.
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Lisa Jaecklein
Lisa is well known in high tech industries for her work in developing and leading high-performance teams. She has “walked the talk” as President and CEO for private and public engineering based companies in Satellite Communications, Telecom and Commercial Enterprise markets. Lisa’s corporate background includes leading an IPO, Strategic Planning, Mergers and Acquisitions and integration of global teams. She draws from her diverse market experience and passion for coaching to support professional development of executives and senior management teams. Her focus areas include supporting development/ refinement of strategic plans, executive coaching to advance leadership capabilities and organization alignment necessary to support strategy implementation. Lisa brings a unique understanding of the interdependencies of people and business that drives results and ways to sustain a positive level of energy in her clients personal and professional lives. Lisa holds a BS in Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco and has served as Director on a number of corporate and not for profit Boards.
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