The Council of Elrond as solution focused approach: the danger of storytelling over prompt decision making

So today, being Friday, I felt in somewhat whimsical mood. In the midst of my organising work for next week, I realised I need to have a meeting about a complex situation next week. I need to tailor the purpose of the meeting carefully, to avoid a significant level of distracting story telling and to make sure the focus is on some key decisions moving forward.

As I considered this I thought, not for the first time, of the many occasions meetings are subject to ‘storytelling’ and become burdensome for relatively simple outcomes. This is a matter of narrative, providing an overall flow of information that imparts just enough detail without becoming overly expositional. To illustrate, I have decided to write a description of the Council of Elrond from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and apply it to the Signs of Safety Assessment Framework (a solution focused framework). This is not a reflection in any way of the LOTR (which I enjoy immensely) or the Signs of Safety framework (it is simply the medium for describing the council, since I use the SOS every day at work). This is purely a tongue in cheek look at overlong meetings and faulty decision making.

The Council of Elrond

Attendees: All the good guys doing zero fighting up until this point, including

Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn (in fairness he used a fire brand at one point), four Hobbits that are in. Over. Their. Heads.

Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, he’s only three feet tall. 

Some dwarves, including a cameo.

Some Elves, including Elrond (acting as chair) who is a master at delegating hard work to other people.

Some random jobber who turned up unexpectedly this morning (how convenient) and will be brought to the meeting without shower, breakfast or anything. 

In the interests of equality we should point out that while no women are named as present, it doesn’t mean there weren’t any (we can’t make that stick – everyone here is a guy or a pseudo-child male Hobbit)

Purpose of meeting

To decide how to stop Sauron, who intends to conquer the world using some hand crafted jewellery. We have his Ring.

What are we worried about?

If Sauron gets the One Ring he wins, for no other reason than the Ring giving him all the power. But it will be bad, very bad.

Sauron has a bigger army and will probably defeat us in open combat (see Missing Information for more on this).

Danger Statement

The Council of Elrond is worried that if Sauron gets the One Ring he will use it to take over the world, infest everything with Orcs and force all races to be subjugated to his will for all time. The CoE is worried that the Orcs will eat everyone while engaging in an orgy of Sauron worship, even though Sauron is so obsessed with the Ring he’ll be more interested in engaging in some kind of mind sex with it.

Complicating Factors

We could have destroyed the ring a long time ago, but didn’t because Elrond didn’t want to have an argument with his mate while standing next to a cavern of molton lava. Elrond is responsible for countless deaths.

The Elves are really, really bad at fighting battles. It’s bordering on sadomasochistic the way they keep serving themselves up for defeat 

We have allowed our enemies to spend centuries preparing to fight us, but we ourselves have done nothing.

Sauron has 9 bad dudes called the Nazgul.  

We will form a party of 9 men to match them, including GANDALF! Aragorn, random traitor/last minute redemption jobber, an Elf, a Dwarf and four children, even though their powers in no way match the Nazgul.

Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, and will for some time reject this notion, unless he needs to mention it to get respect or get into certain places. At some point he’ll just accept the notion, and this will constitute the whole of his character growth.

The rest of this meeting will be spent talking for hours, literally hours, about stuff going on in the world, but very little will be done to make a decision on anything.

What’s Working Well?

We have Gandalf!

We’ll get Gandalf the White later, which will also be the sum total of his character growth.

We’ll benefit from an insane level of friendly help, while our enemies will remain usefully anonymous (thus undermining their effectiveness and danger).

We have the Ring, but can’t actually use it. On the other hand, it means Sauron can’t use it or even see it, except at times it’s important to the plot.

Saruman is a bit useless as it turns out. 

The Nazgul are very powerful, yet throughout will be defeated by a sparkler (a flaming stick), some water (twice), a Hobbit with a magic penknife, a female warrior masquerading as a man and constituting one of the more interesting and detailed characters, Gandalf with a torch, and an exploding volcano. They will have very little actual impact.

We’ll be aided at various times by fortunate unexpected late arrivals of reinforcements.

Sam can carry an awful lot on his back.

The Elves have magic superglue for Aragorn to have his sword fixed.

Missing Information

Even though Sauron’s forces outnumber everyone else by many times, he’ll barely attack and will be defeated in every battle. He even has elephants. Elephants?! And he still loses.

It’s been asked many times over, but seriously you didn’t even consider the eagles to fly to Mount Doom?

In the past, when desperately outnumbered and close to defeat, the Elves sailed west and asked the Gods, the actual Gods, to come and help. They cut off Morgoth’s (Sauron’s former employer) hands and feet and chucked him into hell. Are we really saying that isn’t an option this time? I mean, they let Sauron go free originally so they do bear some responsibility here.

We don’t know where Gollum is, but really we think that will turn out good in the end.

Sauron created the One Ring by infusing a significant portion of himself to do it. Gandalf is actually the same kind of creature as Sauron (so is Saruman and Radagast). Are we really saying that it never occurred to three wizards to spend centuries working out how to make a good version? Or a super magic Ring finder and invincible flying creature?

What needs to happen?

After several hours talking about all sorts of things going on in the world, we’ll stop the Council and spend weeks collecting more, and somewhat superfluous, information before finally, finally, deciding to walk east for chuck the Ring in molten lava.
So you see, even in the realms of fantasy, people end up having long winded and ultimately inefficient meetings. Have a nice weekend.


The curse of the staff meeting

Today’s #blog looks at pointless meetings, and how to find new ways to motivate staff #work

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so you all know what that means?

Yes. Tomorrow is Thursday.

More critically, it means it’s all staff meeting day. An enduring ritual undertaken for no other reason than a belief in the supposed need to group everyone together.

Here’s the thing though. If there was no meeting then what would you do? Would you notice a difference? Would it matter? Would there be a special place in your heart that had been mercilessly cut out and left to rot, leading you on a downward spiral of drug use, alcohol, and misery?

I suspect not. 

Contrary to popular belief amongst my peers I actually love meetings. I could sit in meetings all day long. What I hate is pointless meetings, the ones where I am extraneous to any outcome, where any decision has already been made, or where the person asking for the meeting isn’t clear on why they are there.

Ultimately, I don’t have patience for time wasters.

So when I think about all staff meetings I ask ‘what is the purpose?’ If the only purpose is to gather people together to establish a sense of community then the meeting is useless. Try as you might, you won’t confer team harmony just by putting people in the same room.

As a team leader, I will be asked to give an update on how the team is functioning etc. The problem is, there will be a limit to my honesty in that matter. I’m hardly likely to say ‘Pretty awful. Last week Sarah got Fiona in a headlock over using the microwave, and the our KPI’s are so bad I have started self-harming to cope with the stress.’

Nope. All is good. All fine. Nothing to see here. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Of course, time is somewhat malleable (or a person’s relative experience of it). We get so hung up in time, and completion if work, as though that extra hour will make a difference. It won’t.

I take the counter intuitive approach – work less to do more. I wonder what our working day would look like if it started and ended with 20 minutes meditation. How energised would we feel with regular exercise periods?

I read somewhere that we are only efficient for about half the working day. So half the day is a write off without really trying (and the irony is, that the reason it’s a write off is because everyone is trying).

So why not structure the day differently? If 3 hours are going to go up in smoke, use them effectively for something beneficial. 

I work in a highly stressful job (social work in Schulz protection setting). I have seen, and suffered, a fair share of vicarious trauma. We are all encouraged to find healthy routines in our personal life. Surely for the most stressful lines of work there needs to be accommodation for managing this stress in the working day?

I can well imagine some people’s reactions if they found out workers were being paid to spend hours of time exercising, meditating and engaged in creative activities (painting by numbers is reportedly the new big thing for adult therapy). 

The trouble is that they have been sucked into this impression of ‘work ethic’, which is really constraining people to wholly unrealistic efforts of labour. I can’t even blame neoliberalism for this – it is a long standing belief going back much further.

I’m in Freo. I would love to write further, but work beckons.