On an early July morning last week, I attended a leadership workshop hosted by Seattle University’s Masters in Psychology Program on an Introduction to Theme Centered Interaction – a specific approach to Participatory Leadership created by psychotherapist and educator Ruth Cohn. Part of the enticement to attend this workshop was in part the free breakfast that came hand-and-hand with the session – nothing beats free bagels & schmear! But the true interest I had for attending was the meeting’s intention to teach those who were “seeking inspiration on how to develop personal and collective leadership in their teams and organization”.
Point It is a team-oriented agency, so team leads are thinking about personal and collective development all of the time. How can we foster independent thinking and growth across our individual team members and our compiled teams? Below, I introduce the 4 Factors of Theme-Centered Interaction, how they play into the principle of Participatory Leadership, as well as 4 ways Participatory Leadership can help drive team growth & success.
4 Factors of Theme Centered Interaction
TCI is a value-based leadership style which roots itself in team members’ realization of being autonomous and interdependent all at the same time. In order to do this, there must be a dynamic balance between the 4 Factors:Individuals (I), Team (We), the Task or Goal (IT), and the Environment which impacts all three (Globe). This leadership philosophy stresses that all four be of equal value, but never one holding all the focus/attention at the same time.
How TCI Plays Into the Principles of Participatory Leadership
TCI is a specific type of Participatory Leadership. Participatory Leadership involves the leader participating in the process along with balancing their own responsibilities – therefore, the leader is both leading and participating at the same time. By focusing on both self-leadership and collective leadership and keeping all moving parts of equal value (Individual, Team, Task, and Environment), what’s created is equal co-working relationships that can drive team effectiveness.
So, how is this applied in a real-life working scenario? During our workshop, we explored various personal examples as well as case studies from our workshop instructors. When a problem arises, the leader identifies it and develops a theme around the issue using a set of questions which cover all 4 Factors. By going through this exercise, the leader is defining the underlying issue of the problem. The leader then presents it to the group and encourages both the individuals and the team as a unit to address the theme, encouraging open communication and discussion on not only what they think, but how they feel. By doing this, the focus is not solely on the individual leader, on the task itself, or the team. Instead, all is evenly distributed and conflict can be addressed more honestly and openly.
4 Ways Participatory Leadership Can Drive Team Success
These fundamentals of TCI and TCI processes may seem fairly straight forward, but it was eye-opening to me during the workshop discussions how often managers struggle to keep these 4 Factors in the forefront of their leadership application. Evaluating all 4 Factors when addressing a problem within your business or agency can be a hugely helpful tool for streamlining team effectiveness and conflict resolution.
Participatory Leadership can:
Help identify problems and dig deeper to address the underlying issue
Blaming and pointing fingers typically doesn’t offer any solutions. Lean into conflict with your teams and dig past your assumptions as a leader as to why a problem may have arose
Foster constructive and honest team communication
This sounds so simple in theory, but is incredibly difficult in practice. That doesn’t mean it’s not something to constantly strive for amongst your teams. Honest teams that address conflict or inefficiencies while keeping the Individuals, Team, Task, and Environment in balanced focus can develop trust and interdependence that can’t be taught by even the best manager
Create a team dynamic which balances autonomy and interdependence
How can you get team members to be both self-driven and responsible on their own while also having them rely on their team counterparts? It’s a tricky behavior to try to teach or explain to someone. So instead, create leadership processes like identifying a theme to begin developing this environment in your teams
Ensure active participation and engagement from the leader – not an outsider looking in
No one wants to be the bad guy who has to “lay down the law” or “put down the hammer”. Many leaders likely feel that they need to separately sit above the team in order to be successful and see results. In Participatory Leadership, leaders must be part of the collective whole. However, they can’t forget that their own individual responsibilities are of equal value and importance, and that the team will look to them for those things.