Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Work lessons from Oz - Doorways of hope and possibility

Einstein once said, 'If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.' Stories are part of our human way to articulate lessons and meaning. They allow us to connect and express our deepest wishes and dreams. They raise us up and open up doorways of hope and possibility. It is probably a sure sign that a civilization is losing its soul and its way when it can longer tell stories in a meaningful way.
The Wizard of Oz ( or to give the book its proper title 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' ) is something many of us remember from childhood when the film was always shown at Christmas. This story, told in a meaningful way, has many significant lessons for the workplace and office and  here we explore just a few . The ones we choose will hopefully have a relevance to the ongoing discussions in the NHS about how we produce the best cultures for staff and the best services for our clients. 

The Three Companions 

The story is that a young girl from Kansas journeys to a mysterious and wondrous land called Oz. It's very different from home. She tells her dog ( who makes the journey too ), 'I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore' and she needs to get home. She meets three companions on the way who become friends. They all seemingly lack something. The scarecrow a brain, the tin man a heart and the lion courage. In the 1939 film they all sing the same song bemoaning what they don't have. The scarecrow sings 'If only I had a brain'. The tin man sings 'If only I had a heart' and the lion 'If only I had the nerve'. The plan is to go to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz who they hope will solve everything for them. So off they set along the Yellow Brick road with their dreams and wishes. Does this resonate with our work  and life ? We have hopes, wishes, passion and dreams and we go looking for something, some place or someone to make them come true. 

When working with people and teams in the NHS  we often hear a difficult story. It is that people are waiting for someone else to make life better.

They seek a ' hero' who may  come along, make the difficult  stuff stop and allow the good times begin. Working with people and teams teach us that we all have to own our own contribution to the present situation. It may be small or major. This is a critical first step to improving any difficult situation. Self discovery and owning ones ' whole self' are critical skills.

The three companions in our story make an amazing discovery. They see at the end of their journey that  they already have what they went searching for. For them courage, brains and a heart. But what about for the rest of us? Seeking what we desire, want, and feel we need is most definitely a journey. It is a painful process for teams to  consider what a 'great' team looks and feels like and then benchmark their own current situation against this finding how near or far away from this they are. It is also, and always an enlightening process. To do this work in our teams is challenging and needs courage. If we want our NHS and social care to be a great work place and as a result deliver excellent services we must look at ourselves in the mirror each day. We  need the courage, capability and the ability to create a kind and caring work environment. We learn, from our characters in Oz that  it starts from within. 

And just like the characters from Oz, teams realise it takes the event and experience to see this. The traveller to Oz discovers what they need is what they have in and through each other. This is an important lesson. We all have great gits and qualities. Yet we only see, own and release these through our journey. We also experience the manifestation of these with and in others. There is a friendship and social aspect to our becoming what we wish to be and how we choose to live our work lives. We can be kind and supportive to each other or unfairly competitive and harsh. The choice lies in our hands. We 'become' through and for others. We spend many hours with our colleagues at work - let us seek to build supportive communities in our workplaces  that value and include. Happily the three companions find what they are looking for. The three things they found - courage, a heart - compassion and intelligence are things we all need too.

What sustains them on their journey is a growing friendship, mutual support and hope. We would suggest this is the same  in our teams. 

The Wizard 

When our travellers  get to the Emerald City they enter into the awesome habitation of the Wizard. In the film in his room they see no one except a face that keeps appearing and disappearing. There is smoke, fire, a booming voice and an authoritarian presence. They discover a shocking secret.

These are all tricks - mere smoke and mirrors. The Wizard is actually a man behind a curtain working levers to create the atmosphere. The 'great and powerful Oz' is a little man working a machine. Dorothy accuses him of being a very bad man. The Wizard replies, 'Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit.' This is the lesson here. We actually think the Wizard was very wrong. He was saying he was a good man but had no magic, no power. The truth is that we all can choose to be good and we all have power. The problem is one of three things:

.       We don't see that we have power.

.       Or we don't really own that we have power.

.       Or that we don't find the ways for the power to flow and function.

The fact is if we don't see we can't own and if we don't own we can't have the power. It is a great error to think we don't or can't have power in our lives. 

Again a feature of teams facing difficulty is that they often describe feelings as powerless and being over powered. It always strikes us that having no power is such a disabling state. Yet as we explore the issues of power and becoming disempowered we discover an interesting fact. When the going gets tough we often defer to those above us ( just like we did when we were children ). We ask those above us to make difficult decisions then we complain about the decisions they have made and we distance ourselves from those decisions. We often wonder about this dynamic;  do we fear being part of the decision making process so much we would rather act as a victim to the decision of others?  Within this dance we have given away our power.

 We have also seen the opposite - the liberating picture of staff finding their power and voice. In Oz, Dorothy finds that when she confronts the Wizard, he is a little man, another human being just like her. And so it is our world. We are all human, trying to do the best we can with what we have. We may get it wrong. We will make mistakes. The people above us are not bad people. Just human beings doing their best often in difficult circumstances. We work in one of the most politicised health systems in the world ( in our humble opinion ) and a key commodity we all have is our personal power. We should never play games with it or give it up. We should guard it with our lives.

It is what gives us identity, stability and hope to work for change . Our patients and clients should expect no less from us. They deserve a staff force which holds its power and uses it positively and effectively. 

The End 

Finally Dorothy discovers what it's all about. At the end of the story Dorothy can't get home to Kansas. She is understandably upset. In the film the good witch tells Dorothy, 'You don't need to be helped any longer. You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.' The  scarecrow asks if this is so, why didn't the witch tell Dorothy. The good witch says, 'Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.'

Again we find here the need for Dorothy to find her own answers and power.

The Wizard couldn't give her this. It was her own inner wizard she needed to find - her will, energy and gifts. If the good witch had told her this she wouldn't have seen or believed it. Dorothy needed the journey of self discovery just like her three friends. The story of Oz calls to how we must learn from work and life, it asks us to consider how these journeys can support our growth, how the  friendships and relationships we make on the way co-develop us. And finally we are asked to consider our inner most ability and the  treasure that lies hidden within each one of us. The North East of England and Yorkshire may be a long long way from Oz - certainly a rainbow away. Yet the lessons are the same and we commend them to you

John Walsh, York Street Health Practice

Dr Maxine Craig, Head of Organisation Development at South Tees NHS Trust and visiting Professor at Sunderland University.           

1 comment:

  1. So many of us working in teams need to learn how to have, give and share power. It's a critical issue in the working environment at this time. A powerful lesson in a simple tale.