We have problems that can be solved. Either there is money in the budget this year for a new roof or there isn’t. It is either/or.
A Polarity must be managed because the circumstances of the situation change and are ongoing. Staff “problems” are never ending as long as we have staff. So they are not a problem but a polarity. There is a positive and a negative to both sides of the Polarity: to have staff or to do the work ourselves.
The difference between Polarity and Problem is important for every organization to examine because the discussion can ease the anxiety between who is right and who is wrong.
“A Polarity is basically two complementary dimensions, which are also in tension, which need to be appropriately balanced for the context. A typical Polarity which all of us at work need to balance, is between work life and home life – the two are interconnected, but also in tension. What happens in one influences the other.”
I have given you several Polarities we experience at Adagio. See if you recognize any of the following:
The groundskeeper at your country club is making changes. He is supported by some members and vilified by others.
The custodian at your church keeps his garage at home meticulous; you could eat off the floor. He rejects proposed uses of the church building because he fears losing control and thinks people might say he can’t do the job anymore.
The church is split over introducing technology into the worship service: screens built into the architecture, changes in the hymnbook, removal of the original and humongous pulpit.
The new pastor promotes community participation and suggests renaming the 60-year-old church. An older, prosperous member rejects the changes and anonymously donates money to support the programs he favors.
The senior pastor is well liked. He enjoys visitation and preaching but feels inadequate administratively. The Board hires a recently retired minister to handle a few well-defined tasks part time. The new hire begins to compare the church ministry to what he did in his old parish.
A new District Manager enters transition by asking each employee what they do and what they would need to do it better. He is well received by most employees who interpret his actions as supportive. Two outside salesmen consider him weak. They are antagonistic and arrange sales trips in order to miss staff meetings.
Managing a Polarity does not mean your organization will be tension-free with no arguments. It is a continual energy flow back and forth between two positions or "complimentary dimensions." How we manage our pain in the flow gives a good clue to our survival and success.
Elsner, Richard and Farrands, Bridget. Lost in Transition. How Business Leaders Can Successfully Take Charge In New Roles. Marshall Cavendish Ltd. 2006. Quote from page 10.