There is always something in somebody that is valuable and that you can learn from regardless of how different we all are. With the current pandemic, humanity has rediscovered that relationships matter and that leadership lives in everybody, not just in the designated leader. On today’s show, Melanie Parish talks with Marita Fridjhon about relationship systems and how they impact everything that we do. They also dive into how you can integrate the voice of the novice into your solutions, acknowledging that the novice sometimes has information that isn’t available to those who are in an organization. Marita is the CEO and Cofounder of CRR Global and a mentor to an ever-growing community of practitioners in the field of relationship systems work.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Relationship Systems Model With Marita Fridjhon
I'm here with Marita Fridjohn. She's the Co-Owner and CEO of CRR Global and a mentor to an ever-growing community of practitioners in the field of relationship systems work. She designs curriculum and operates training programs in relationship systems work for coaches, executives, and teams. She came to this work from an extensive background of clinical social work, community development, process work, family systems therapy, business consulting and alternative dispute resolution. In this episode, we're going to be talking about her background in South Africa and how she's taken her in-person coaching programs online. I'm excited to have Marita here. She's one of my mentors and I love the work she does.
Marita, I am excited to have you on my show.
I’m delighted to be with you.
I would love for you to start by telling us a little bit about your work.
We have designed and created a course training series in organization and relationship systems coaching. I want to emphasize relationship systems because that is the differentiator and the thing that usually impacts what we do. My background, for some of you reading, you may know that I was born in South Africa during the Apartheid Era. It hugely impacted how I view communities, relationships, and my deep interest in systems. What became clear was that we couldn't make the change from the inside. It was only by the time that the globe took action and the larger systems began to speak up through the sanctions that Apartheid could be abolished. Those experiences shaped my focus on the importance of relationships, that it matters regardless of how you're different from me and leadership, that relationship matters and how we work that piece. Those are some of the factors in forming my work history.
If you think about your vision, what is it that you want to bring to the world?
Right relationship, not in the sense that some relationships are wrong and some are right. Right relationship in a sense everybody is living and expressing themselves within their own deeply valued integrity. We can begin to see others as something and somebody that's valuable and that I can learn from, regardless of how different we are. Leaders can begin to feel and see that they don't have to have the answer, that leadership is a team sport and that relationship is critical. We can begin to have our kids see that. It's what we see in the pandemic. It takes this kind of crisis for humanity to rediscover that relationship matters and that leadership lives in everybody, not just in the designated leader. That is part of what drives about everything we designed, created and tried to achieve.
It's interesting to hear you talk about that. I'm curious how you're experiencing or experimenting in this pandemic. What are you doing in your own business?
The regular consensus reality pieces where we have to virtualize all training and the process that is part of that is the challenge for many professionals and companies. The thing that I get interested in is that we are a company that trains in relationship systems work. Because we coach and train other people, there's a false belief that we are perfect. We're not. This stuff, when you have to walk the talk of it, is easier said than done. In our own system, I watch how when a crisis hits, we all have to bring a completely different awareness of how we work together and collaborate to hold that we-center climate and culture. It's not up to one leader to have the answer. It is a team event. We have to be open to influence from people that we may think don't know anything about.
There’s this fascinating research done through MIT Sloan where they found that one of the requirements or things that facilitate team collective intelligence is in groups where they're not only experts but groups in which there is a diversity of experiences and novices. It's the novice that asked the question about the thing that we totally take for granted because it's the water that we swim in. It points to that diversity, to one of the things we say in RSI, Relationship Systems Intelligence. Systems rely on roles for executing functions. That means that the outer role of leadership, whether it's CEO, parent, or whatever, doesn't change. The inner role of leadership belongs to the whole team and to the whole organization. In any given moment in time, somebody other than the leader can have the answers. It's that piece where we can create what we talk about as we-centered cultures. That's centered on the we, not the me, as the leader so much. That's some of what you are exploring in the work that you do and the writing that you've done. It is a team sport and it relies on relationships.
I believe it's a team sport. I love that. This voice of the novice, is there anything specific you can point to or a way that you solicit that voice in your own work and business?
Even prior to the pandemic, there was an increase in practices that slow things down. Corporations hate it but it's that place where sometimes we have to slow down in order to speed up. At some of those with ideologies, it goes back to tribes and older practices. One of them is the practice of dialoguing with questions. The moment we go to a topic and we dialogue about what's next with questions, that's when the novice voice can come in. It can ask a question that nobody thought about. If we take fifteen minutes and just ask questions, in about minute 4 or 5, you begin to hear the suggestions in the questions. You have to redirect that and go, “You're making a suggestion that we do that or that you already have the answer.” Those are questions that we don't have answers for.
Novices are good at that in any situation. It's the thing that we see at the moment. When we look at what's happening in the education system during the pandemic, parents need to homeschool kids at home. The kids are teaching the parents. The kids are teaching the teachers how to go virtual. They know more about it than the average school teacher. That's an example where we see them as a novice in the role of teacher but they are an expert. Sometimes, from those kinds of questions, you get different responses.
That’s an interesting analogy about the kids. My children were born the same year as YouTube launched. They're fun to watch as they try and figure things out. They're a great voice of the “novice” because they are experts in a way their teachers aren't.
Here's an example. We've come from training with some of our leaders on our intelligence course, Going Virtual. What was fascinating was that the group that we trained consisted of a number of leaders that have low “tech experience.” The others are comfortable and good at the tech experience. I believe we've got the culture that we have that relies on input and questions. The questions that created most learning on the call were questions for people that didn't have a clue about what was happening, “Wait, what did you do? How did that work?” That's where the learning happened. It takes not knowing to ask the question that will provide the training for everybody else as well. Those are the kinds of examples where you create the openness that people can ask the questions, be safe enough to ask something that they may think is embarrassing. It also sets the tone for learning for everybody else.
As someone who spent their life dedicated to right relationship, what's in your mind? What are some of the values that you rest on as you think about taking courses online?
That's a great question. When we think of values, there are certain ones that jump out. Integrity is a huge value for me. One of the values, when we go there, is to let everybody know that we’re virtual. For people that have had some of the in-person experiences, we need to let them know it's different. It may not have some of the same magic that happens there but it will have different magic. Know that these are our first rounds. It may not be perfect. There may be snafus but let's have fun with it. That, to me, brings integrity. We go to market saying, “We've got it. It's perfect. It's handled.” That sets us up for failure. To go to the market and say with integrity, “This is the best that we have at the moment. It will continue to change in the future. Have fun with it,” that holds consensus well in a different way. That's one of the places that I've been pushing hard not to make it as if we've got it perfect. We need to own that we are going to have some failures because those are the best places to learn.
One of the things I love is thinking about prototypes, feedback loops and how you can put something in the marketplace or roll it out to your team or wherever you're doing the work. Having something institutionalized in terms of getting feedback along the journey. Is there any part of that?
Yes, that's great. One of the other practices I often do with teams, and I've done it during this virtualizing process as well, is that they now have one day a week as a failure day. It's a day in which the only thing they talk about is where they have failed in the past week in order to figure out what they need to learn from that. A leader that allows, “Tell me about where you failed and what do we learn from that?” is a different leader and leadership. One that looks for, “Don't tell me you failed because you're going to be penalized,” is more of top-down old-style leadership. It's conversations of failure. Where did we fail? What did we miss? What have you learned from that? Everything we do, honestly, life including, is a prototype. The moment we stop prototyping, we stop evolving.
When you fail, you get skin in the game somehow.
If we as leaders can step into the place of, “Let me tell you why I failed. I felt because I lost my temper. Why did I lose my temper? It’s because I felt like I should have known better,” that's all about me. If I as a leader can model, we begin to build a culture that truly has a different form of trust. Trust me it's easier said than done. I'm not saying any of us is perfect. The more we think we’re perfect, the harder we fall.
Marita, how are you challenged personally?
It may sound like a political comment but it's not meant to be political. It's meant to be human. When I look at our world, I look at what's happening politically. When I look at the way in which we cannot tolerate that which is different and the violence that sometimes happens around that, whether it is race, gender, or ethnic origins, the amount of violence that we have against that which is different reminds me of why I left my homeland. It was too hard. For me, because of my history, my personal challenge is how to stay present and be in dialogue with that which I judge which I simply cannot tolerate because it feels all of the integrity. To know where it is that I have enough resilience to have that conversation with somebody like that and where it is that I have to say, “No, I cannot have that conversation with integrity.” All of us are thinly spread and there's so much happening. It's important to know when I am reacting to and when can I try to create from? Sometimes it's better if I do it by myself, speak to my dog, go to somebody else, but not to the person that I'm reacting to. We begin to look and feel the same.
That's a great perspective. I have a question I often ask leaders. What kind of self-care do you do for yourself? How do you take care of Marita?
What might be seen as the shallow side of me is that when I'm tired and I simply cannot get my mind out of what needs to happen, going to play a fantasy game like Marvel Strike Force helps me get out and change my mind. Contemplative practices nature, it's huge. Our dogs are helping me because they have to get out on a regular basis for exercise, not just out in the yard. That responsibility forces me to step in my car and take them to the park where I can be in nature. Nature is the ultimate third entity rescue partner, if you will. My third entity with nature is the way in which I can be fed in that. Because I'm an introvert, people are not always the best thing for me to do. I also need to take care of myself by making sure that my introvert has a space where it can be quiet. There's a variety of things that place of knowing when I'm busy reacting to and do that in a way that I don't do harm. I can return to what I can create from. Reacting to is not bad. It's how can we do it in such a way that we don't go home.
I always talk to my clients about the things that annoy them. It’s not a huge level of reactivity but the little place of annoyance that they might feel is a good place to start to experiment.
One of the other principles of RSI is that systems are in a constant state of emergence. We think about the global system at the moment, we couldn't have been thrown in a bigger emergence than we are now. When that happens, if I miss the signals and it comes too fast, that's when it becomes an emergency. When I'm in an emergency, that's what I need to pay attention to. Am I reacting to or creating from? Reacting to is normal. It's not bad, it's not wrong. Be conscious that's what I'm doing. Even if I have to call you as a friend or a colleague and say, “I need to spend fifteen minutes. I need to ventilate and tell you how horrible it is,” or whatever, I set the stage for you to hold space for me. I have bracketed. I've said, “That's what I need and it's not about you.” Ventilation and reacting to, there's nothing wrong with it. What is it that I can create from it? If we look at what's been created from the pandemic, it's amazing. Look at how people step up to help people. Look at what's happening to nature. It’s almost as if the pandemic or crisis shows us how to recover and what needs to recover. That's the piece that I'm interested in.
The pandemic possibilities, there are many. I also feel like our leaders are in the leadership Olympics as they experiment and try lots of things on a global stage. It's like watching a big train wreck but it's still incredibly interesting to see what they're trying.
One of the things that I get curious about is the role that we can play. The ‘we’ is a collective we, whether it's leaders, coaches or people that are committed to this, to relationship with other, with nature, to relationship. I often wonder what it is that we need to pay attention to that we can help support. What are some of the responses that are things that we need to hold and stabilize post-pandemic, by the time that things open up and people go back to “normal?”
Easy examples would be is it useful to have people work from home one day less because it has all sorts of positive effects? I don't know but we need to look at what the good outcomes are and see. Is there anything that we can advocate for that we want to retain post-pandemic because it will make a better world? It will make a better nature. It will create a better office team. It will improve family life. What are those things that we were forced to do now but that we can and need to find ways to maintain? I don't know what the answer is. It feels to me as if we have a narrow window in time that would be important to look at.
That's a great inquiry and a great place to stop. What's the ‘we’ that elevates the relationship as we emerge from this time?
I have been in direct conversation with a pandemic for maybe a month. I gave that as homework to some of the people I've been working with, “Have a conversation with a pandemic. What does it want?” Some of the things that we see at the moment are part of what I get back. The hardest part of that conversation sometimes is that it sits across there and says, “The only thing that I'm worried about is that if I leave too soon, you'll just go back to normal.” That's what had my attention go, “What is it that we have some influence over that we need to take a stand for and say these are important and worthwhile things to work towards maintaining some version of?” That would be a real invitation that what is it that you, the reader, and all of us can see that we want to stand for? This will make our lives better. This will make our teams more efficient. This will make me a better systems-inspired leader that can create from my team. Those are the things I get curious about.
Thank you for being on the show, Marita. It is a joy for me to have you here. I loved every minute of the time that we spent together.
Thank you, Melanie, for doing this.
Marita, where can people find you?
Thank you for asking that question. If anybody goes to CRRGlobal.com, it’s an international company. We've got partners in many different countries. You will be able to look, check and see which countries are represented. You'll be able to find other podcasts, articles, dates and availability of courses in North America. It’s CRRGlobal.com. I’m looking forward to meeting you there.
I know you have some online courses that sold out. Congratulations on that. That's exciting.
Thank you. It seems that there are people who know what is good and what is bad. With online courses, we can have people from different outlying areas that normally probably wouldn't have traveled to a course.
I've enjoyed talking to Marita Fridjohn from CRR Global so much. I love the way that she populates her language with the language of her brand, talking about relationship systems. The language is alive for her in everything she says. I love how she's clear of her own values, how she talks about reactivity and creativity being opposites, and how you can defuse reactivity and dig deeper into creativity. I'm excited that she's taken her courses online and made them available to more people. I find that her vision for helping people have better relationships is clear. I love hearing her talk about the voice of the novice and how you can integrate that thinking into your solutions. The novice sometimes has systems information that isn't available to those who are in it in an organization. It's been such a pleasure being on with Marita. Go experiment.
About Marita Fridjhon
Marita Fridjhon, is co-owner and CEO of CRR Global and mentor to an ever-growing community of practitioners in the field of Relationship Systems work. She designs curriculum and operates training programs in Relationship Systems Work for coaches, executives and teams.
She came to this work from an extensive background of Clinical Social Work, Community Development, Process Work, Family Systems Therapy, Business Consulting and Alternative Dispute Resolution.
She has an international mentor coaching practice of individuals, partnerships and teams. Her primary focus in coaching is on systemic change, leveraging diversity, creative communication, deep democracy in conflict management and the development of Learning Organizations.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.