Feb. 8, 2023

Gold at the End of the Conflict

Listen in as hosts Matt Perez and Jose Leal engage in a conversation with coach and Tuff Leadership Training trainer Lisa Gill, about why embracing conflict at work could be considered an opportunity to have radical, healthy conversations,...

Listen in as hosts Matt Perez and Jose Leal engage in a conversation with coach and Tuff Leadership Training trainer Lisa Gill, about why embracing conflict at work could be considered an opportunity to have radical, healthy conversations, and why organizations need to rethink how they deal with it.


Matt Perez (00:03):

Hi everybody. This is rHatchery.live, and today we have Lisa Gill with us. And it is really a pleasure. I've been on her podcast and she's a wonderful person. She's a member of Tuff Leadership Training. I was going to say Tufts University, but something like that.

Lisa Gill (00:27):

Maybe one day.

Matt Perez (00:28):

And she's disappointed with the whole thing about self-management and that kind of thing. And I'll let her introduce herself, but thrilled to have her here. Really thrilled to have her here. So why don't you go ahead and tell us about yourself and then introduce yourself?

Lisa Gill (00:50):

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. So yeah, I guess key things to know about me are that as you said, work with Tuff Leadership Training, and we're a company, we turn 20 this year. We have our 20th birthday. And we're a group of people who have our origins in experimenting with self-managing companies going back to the nineties. And nowadays we mostly specialize in, leadership training which is really training people in the mindset and skillset shift needed to break the hierarchical dynamic in companies. So whether you have managers or you're wanting to be self-managing, there's this like, hierarchical dynamic that we all are conditioned in. So how do we break that? And then I also have a podcast called Lead Amorphous, which Matt has been on where I share stories and examples of companies around the world that are doing, you know, radical things. And I also have a book, which is also a collection of stories about experiments with working without managers called Moosehead on the Table, which I can show here, so yeah, so that's me really. I'm really nerdy about new ways of being together and what that means for leadership and how we can radically reimagine organizations.

Jose Leal (02:14):

When you say nerdy, sorry, I was just going to say the word nerdy sounds like thoughtful.

Lisa Gill (02:21):

Yeah. Maybe a self-deprecating way of saying thoughtful.

Matt Perez (02:27):

What is the name of your book?

Lisa Gill (02:29):

The name of the book is Moose Heads on the Table - Stories about self-managing organizations from Sweden. So it's, and I can say some more later about what Moose Heads on the Table means. But it's, what we wanted to have.

Matt Perez (02:44):

I'm curious, I never asked you that question. So, we basically asked three questions in the podcast. The first one is, what do you think is the problem? And I think you alluded to it, the hierarchical thing and all that, which we call fiat. And what are you doing about it and what are your clients doing about it in this case? And I forgot the third question. What's the third question? it's only half-hour program, so they usually take up, all of it. So, what do you think is a problem? What's wrong with hierarchy is worked for us for a year, for thousands of years, and what's wrong with that?

Lisa Gill (03:35):

Yeah. So, my family and love, I think my journey with hierarchy has been to realize that hierarchy itself is neither good nor bad. It's a technology and it depends on how you apply it. And I think you could say that any group of human beings will have natural hierarchies and experience, hierarchies of knowledge or tenure in the company, or whatever. So it's kind of a fool's game to try and get rid of hierarchy. But when I talk about like, the hierarchical dynamic, what I mean is like, what I see the problem as being is that organizations where there is this automatic, unconscious, hierarchical dynamic. And another way to put that is like a parent-child dynamic where either managers or kind of leaders with a lowercase l are being a bit like a parent to a child. You know, this kind of hierarchical dynamic that is really in the way for us, in the complex world that we live in now with the complex problems that we need to solve in terms of really tapping into the full potential and energy and creativity and intelligence of the people that we spend so much time hiring for our companies, right? So that's the problem that I see is that we don't treat each other like adults. And part of that is also a topic that I'm passionate about, which is about how we deal with conflict and how we deal with feedback, and how we deal with communication in a different way. So that's, yeah, that's how I would identify the problem

Jose Leal (05:17):

Is that problem in your mind, does it exist only in our conditioning, or do you think it's also a systemic issue? Because one of the reasons we call it fiat it's also an imposed thing, right? It's a FIAT dictate. And so, what's your sense of that? 

Lisa Gill (05:43):

Yeah, I think it's both. That's also been my kind of quest, because in the beginning, like when I first started learning about, you know, alternative ways of working, I was really convinced that hierarchy was the problem. And we needed to just smash hierarchies, and then everyone would be, you know, equality would thrive and we'd all be happy in utopia. But actually what I'm learning is that even if we change the structures and processes in our organizations, you know, we start making decisions in a different way. We have transparent, self-managed salaries and so on. There's still this conditioned inherited, again, like dynamic, the way that we relate to each other, that is much trickier because we are usually blind to that, and that is conditioned in us in often in families, in schools, in workplaces, so what I'm finding more and more is companies that I'm working with that are, you know, maybe doing really progressive things in terms of their structures and processes are still bumping up against problems. And when you look at it, it's because they're not aware of the ways in which they're still showing up in a hierarchical way, even with those structures and processes. So that to me is a really interesting and often missing piece.

Matt Perez (07:02):

Yeah. And that's, I mean like you said, there are natural hierarchies, like when you're talking, normally we're not talking to ourselves or something like that. Now that I'm talking, you guys are listening and stuff like that. So natural hierarchy, hierarchy is fine. It is not a problem. It's the imposed hierarchies. Do it my way.

Lisa Gill (07:28):

Exactly. Like, one thing I sometimes say is that in an ideal world, you want to go from a rigid, what you guys would call a FIAT hierarchy, like a rigid fixed, top-down power over hierarchy, to allowing for dynamic hierarchies of choice. By which I mean like, you know, that we can agree together. Oh, you know, Matt has more experience in this thing. So we think it's really good if you make decisions about that or have more influence, or we go to you for advice on that thing. Like, that would be stupid to pretend that you don't have that. But we all agree that together and then we agree on the things, you know, these decisions will make in this way by consensus or by consent or whatever. So, it becomes much more about conscious hierarchies as opposed to inherited, you know, rigid fiat hierarchies.

Matt Perez (08:26):

The news this morning was that the Korean boss, whatever his name is he's making it clear to his daughter is going to be it. And hey, advancement of women, that’s good, but not really because it is just another boss they're going to inherit. And you're right, people kind of internalize the same, they can't, the North Koreans cannot perceive the world without a king, whatever his name is. And so, that's a bad thing. It's like, what are we going to do without the president? What are we going to do without the CEO? What are, and that's what we ended up calling everybody a boss. They're all bosses. They're no leaders. They're bosses.

Lisa Gill (09:25):

Yeah, exactly. And it's, in my experience, even the most, unquote enlightened, you know, CEOs or founders or whatever, you know, most people overestimate how empowering they are or how coaching they can be, you know, and it's, I think the first step is to kind of accept and confront the dictator that we all have within us that shows up in different ways that we are not conscious of. Because from that starting point, and this is something that my colleagues and I at Tuff do a lot. It's like creating spaces for us to discover when do I become like a dictator. When do I become like a parent? You know? There's usual usually like certain situations or ways of being in someone else that triggers that. And if I can become more aware of that, then I can choose more. And then I can go from like this automatic hierarchical dynamic to something that's more adult more partnership based. But that takes practice because we haven't learned that. I don't know what that looks like. I don't know how to give my colleague feedback without doing it, like a boss would do it, because I've never seen how you do that in a way that's not top-down. I don't know how to hold someone accountable in a way that's not like a boss, so that we have to practice and figure out

Matt Perez (10:42):

And figure out we don't know how to do it, or we kind of knew how to do it in the, as Lucas playing in the yard kind of thing, but then we were, no, that's not that you have to impose yourself to hit you did you hit harder, you know, and stuff like that. So yeah, we need to unlearn a lot of things. First, and that's part of moving forward is unlearning the bad things.

Jose Leal (11:12):

The first thing in the playground is who's going to be the captain? And then you get to choose your team. And that starts really early, right? Really, really early. And now that's the captain and he makes the decisions, or she.

Lisa Gill (11:29):

Yeah. And also it's a trap then, you know, if we try and work, you know, in less hierarchical ways, a trap can be, no one's allowed to be the leader now, and we become so allergic to leadership, like, you can't do that because there are no bosses now that that can also be its own, you know, hell, because you can end up in death by consensus, creative entropy, you know, this kind of false harmony tiptoeing around culture. So, there is something also about, like, it's not that boss less equals leaderless, like in my experience, boss less equals leader full, but it's learning ways to unleash everyone's leadership and to let it flow like water to where it needs to go. And it will shift. And, you know, we all need to undergo a mindset shift from seeing ourselves as like employed or the boss to seeing ourselves as co-producers, co-owners, you know? Yes. And that means to take, you know, taking initiatives that means doing a whole bunch of different things that we're not used to doing. So it's, yeah, like you said, it's unlearning and, and learning.

Matt Perez (12:38):

And the thing about conflict, one thing that is worth for me excellent, is having people around me that go, you're racing your voice or you're just saying, I'm comfortable with this in whatever form it takes and not reacting. Of course, I try to, but not reacting in a box-like way of saying, how do you dare say that to me? Or shut up, or oh, okay, fine. But paying attention to somebody else. Just some ways of doing it, I've been practicing competition for a long time, and having somebody tell you, no, that's not the way through it doesn't put it all on me. It's not that I have to figure it out, somebody else can notice it, and I have to be willing to accept that and wrong with it, that's less difficult. There are ways of doing that is not all on the individual. Is the group around the social circle around the person?

Jose Leal (13:46):

Yes. And that's why we, really like the collaborative management concept, right? We know how to manage our own lives, right? We, we do that fairly well. There's obviously some hierarchy and fiat structures at home as well, but for the most part, much less than in our working lives. And, and so the idea of collaboratively managing or co-managing is, is really one of, well, if I can manage my life and you can manage your life and we can help each other manage our lives respectively, then we're, we're not necessarily asking that you be a leader, we're just asking you to, to, to do this collaboratively. And, and so, so I think there's a little tension there in the difference in the language. Yes. But it's, it's a, for us, it seems like an important thing. How do you deal with that when you're talking about leadership, that collaborative aspect of it?

Lisa Gill (14:52):

Yeah. And it's tricky because I think there are so many different definitions of leadership. And for me, when I say leadership, what I mean is a way of being, which is taking responsibility for myself, and how I show up. And, the whole, like, that's one way that I would define leadership. So, if someone is sort of standing in their leadership, it means that they recognize that we're, it's all about the relationship. Like leadership is a relationship. And what you just described of co-management and collaboration. For me, what I'm realizing more and more is it's all about relationships. And I was listening to a talk the other day with bio this amazing philosopher mind. He was saying that we don't have relationships. We are relationships. So that's like, that's a big mindset shift going from like fiat hierarchies, which are very transactional to, you know, to something that's more co-management is seeing that it's all about the relationships. And that's, you know, this Moose Heads on the Table thing comes about from that. If we are going to co-manage together, then it also means we need to really upgrade how we communicate with each other, and the levels of trust and openness that we have with each other. Because now it's not, you know, there's a problem, if I have a problem with someone else, I don't go to HR or my boss to fix that. It's now much more up to me and my colleagues and to in relationship figure that out. You know, so placing the Moose Heads on the Table, Moosehead is like a metaphor for all the things that are taboo in a team or in an organization that we don't talk about, but they represent things that are in the way for us to collaborate effectively. So Moose Heads could be, you know, something that happened a long time ago that we still haven't really made peace with a stupid decision someone made or a reorganization or whatever. It can be a dynamic that goes on. It can be someone's way of being, it can be like a collective mindset. So you can think of it like an iceberg. It's like everything that's under the iceberg. And that is so much what influences our level of collaboration, but we don't talk about it, we only talk about above-the-surface things, right? Decisions, budgets, schedules, projects, deadlines. And we completely ignore it, it's as if there's this big bloody moose head. That's why the cover of the book is so kind of, it's like a horror book because it's like this metaphor of this big bloody moose head in the middle of the table in a meeting, and no one is talking about it. We're talking over it. And as long as we do that it's using up energy that we could be redirecting to something creative because it takes energy to tiptoe around something. It takes energy to gossip and talk about something behind people's backs, you know, or complain to our partner when we go home. So, it's sort of like a commitment to, you know, in tough, my colleagues and, we start every meeting by saying any moose heads, and it's really a practice, and it never gets easy. It's always a bit uncomfortable, but we're committed to having everything that needs to be said. So, we start with, you know, any moose heads, and people bring them up and it releases so much energy because you learn things about each other. You get new perspectives, you deepen trust in relationships. You know, you free up all this energy. So it's really, that's the kind of mindset shift that for me has been really like wonder is starting to practice that and be brave.

Jose Leal (18:47):

You connect in a relationship. All of those things are the glue of the relationship, right?

Lisa Gill (18:54):

Yeah, exactly.

Jose Leal (18:54):

And I think we talk a lot about transparency, and I think there are two aspects of transparency. And what you've just described to me is the transparency about me. So, like you just said, the transparency of things. What are you working on? How are you working on it, where's the data? All of that stuff. That's easy transparency. It's still hard because a lot of people want to keep all of that information to themselves. But it's really the, yeah, I'm feeling this way and I think you're an idiot. And I think, and get it out there. What's the thing that's bugging you? Because it isn't real, but it is a door toward getting too real.

Lisa Gill (19:45):


Jose Leal (19:45):

Right? So the moose head isn't the problem, the moose head is a door to the problem.

Lisa Gill (19:51):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And the moose head, in a way, the moose head it's not the problem. It's the reason the problem is infected, you could say, yes. So it's like, you know, if Jose made a decision that we all thought was stupid, the moose head is not the decision the move set is maybe that we don't like the way you made that decision without involving us, for example, or you don't, we don't like the way that you didn't, we gave you input and you didn't integrate it into the decision. And we're annoyed about that. And then it's like really good and really responsible and really leaderful, if I can bring that up, I have a bit of a moose head with you about this decision that you made without involving us or taking into account our input. And then, you know, the story I make up, therefore, is like, you know, it's not for real. This whole thing that we're trying to do of co-management because you did it without us. And you know, and then we can clean that up and you can say your intention was. And we can say, okay, we get that. It wasn't your intention to do that. So, what do we want to agree on going forward? How can we make this work going forward? In case this moose head pops up again, what agreement would help us to sort of have faith that, you know, that's not going to happen again or what to do with it does happen?

Matt Perez (21:12):

One thing that we're doing in other businesses and stuff like that we're sent to start, and we were thinking of doing for this podcast as well, is we have this thing called an agreement. I call it a trusted worker. I forget. Collaborative agreement. It doesn't matter. The thing is it brings out all these things upfront. So what's the, what's the mindsets you bring to the party? What, and the thing that struck me when we did for me for this other thing was what does it look like when you're collaborating with people? And I pointed out, I thought about it for a second and I thought, well, the first thing I do is reject the collaboration at hand. It is, I cross my arms, screw you the stupid ideas, because new ideas are great, they're wonderful. Either mine, it's to yours, I've rejected them. And the other confusing thing is that I go from that to, I embrace it, you know, if it's something to me, I embrace it and I start asking questions about them. So that conversation alone, I mean, for me it was great. It was, it revealed a lot of things about how I do things and why it confuses people because it should. But the thing, the other thing about it is that it also opens doors to the relationship that has both of us in the relationship. And people could say, oh, wait a minute. You're looking, you have your arms cross-crossed still. Or you are starting to embrace it. Or are you criticizing what I'm saying? Or, it's a different way of communicating and relating to people. And that's going to be very important going forward beyond code management, which we call corner shop because it's very key if people feel fact they react with defense and fact transparency, we call that vulnerability, which is the ability to do self-harm, to do harm to yourself. So how do we turn the whole massive, complicated thing around is very important. And those kinds of communication skills are key. So yeah, we need to come up with names like moose and things that haven't had a name that has become invisible.

Lisa Gill (23:58):

Yeah. That normalizes it too. And I love what you are saying because, for me, that's such a good example of the mindset shift, which is most of us in organizations try to avoid conflict or resolve it. And in both cases, it's like conflict is something bad, and if it happens, something went wrong, instead of seeing it as we're all completely unique different human beings with unique experiences and feelings and mindsets. So, of course, we're going to have conflicts and it's good that we have conflicts because otherwise we're all, you know, like clones of each other and that wouldn't be good. So I love your example of like proactive, like anticipating, you know, we are going to have conflicts because sometimes this is what it looks like when I collaborate. So it is, most people leave the conflict piece till, you know, well come across that bridge when we come to it. And then when you come to it, you don't have the capacity, you don't know what to do with it. You're like, whoa, now what? You know. So I love this idea of like, let's really put effort and time into our relationships and how we show up in relationships and have it as a conversation that we keep having all the time. It's like working on the relationship and not just working in a relationship.

Jose Leal (25:16):

It's a framework for the relationship.

Lisa Gill (25:18):

Yeah, exactly.

Jose Leal (25:19):

Right. It's building that framework early on so that you know where you're at when you're in the moment. It's pretty easy to say to Matt, Hey, by the way, you're being this way, right? Yeah. Because we have a framework by which we can have that conversation without creating a new thing. It's like, how do you name that? What is it? What should I call it? What we've already named it. It's already part of our terminology. And I can point it and he can do the same to me. It helps us so much.

Lisa Gill (25:53):

Yep. Definitely.

Matt Perez (25:54):

But I like the idea of putting names on those, the crossing of the arms and the embracement and stuff like that. So, moose hat and chicken hat and you know, we can come up with other names. I was going to say, the thing of naming things and making them invisible is super important. It's worked for my wife and me for forever and it is really important to say, oh, that's one of these, or that's one of those and name it.

Lisa Gill (26:29):

Yeah. It's like you can't transform what's invisible or what's not said.

Jose Leal (26:35):


Lisa Gill (26:36):

So it's like, yeah. And we, in Tuff we have names for our different mindsets or our different pitfalls. You know, I have my colleague Carl, Eric, the critic, because he has a tendency to become critical sometimes or you know, I have a mindset that I'm not interesting. So then I become kind of quiet and shy and people wonder what I'm thinking and they think I'm in cold. I have a colleague who thinks I'm not smart, so she'll say my mindset I'm not smart is popping up now. So I'm just feeling a bit insecure and we just talk about it like they're friends, you know, and it's, yeah. It really takes the scariness out of it to name things.

Jose Leal (27:17):

If you don't mind Lisa, I know it's almost time to wrap up and I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about the third question because I think it would be really interesting. We've talked a lot about the problem, the solution. Do you think it's enough, is what we're doing in this space, whether we're talking about leadership or co-management, what we are doing collectively or individually in your group is enough, or what do you think is still missing?

Lisa Gill (27:52):

I mean, I think it depends on which day you ask me. Sometimes I feel optimistic and I feel like, you know, it's enough that I'm, you know, affecting help, transforming catalyzing change in this small piece of the world that I'm working with. And other times it feels, it's still so niche, you know, it's still such a small percentage of organizations working in this way. Even though, you know, I've had 80-plus episodes of my podcast. It's still a small number. Right. And also, I think we need to reinvent education. You know, I'm really passionate about that reinventing how people learn in schools and doing that in a co-managed way, and also, you know, neighborhoods and societies, you know, like this cost of living crisis at the moment and what would it be like if we had citizens, people of their place actually shaping and helping to solve problems like climate crisis on like a local micro level, you know, like that. I think it has to be a network of many, many, many things. And this is a small piece of that, but I think it all connects to this larger paradigm shift, which is, you know, moving away from this fiat mindset and way of being and way of relating to something else

Matt Perez (29:15):

And seeing it and being able to talk about it. And that's when you start taking it apart and putting other things in place. And like, I think we said it in the book and, and I say it often is, I have no idea this, this is going to develop, but we got to start, we got to start somewhere or else we're going to go over the cliffs at some point. Maybe not now. You know, we'll solve our problems. We will come up with a new form of capitalism or whatever, but we're going to go over the hill at some point. There's only so much earth to have and the dreams of going to Mars and all that stuff. I don't want to live in Mars. I want to live in this earth.

Jose Leal (30:00):

Good old earth

Lisa Gill (30:01):

I don't like flying, so I don't want to get into space.

Matt Perez (30:04):

And so, we have a couple of minutes. So, Summerhill, are you familiar with Summerhill? In you of the woods and Sudbury, in our neck of the woods are schools that are more like, what were we thinking of? So, there's a lot of movement in South America.

Lisa Gill (30:28):

Yeah. Like a self-organized learning environment. Seoul, I spoke to Seoul, Colombia for example. So there are some really great ones because they tend to be private schools is the problem.

Matt Perez (30:38):

They tend to be private schools.

Lisa Gill (30:40):

But there are structures and frameworks that don't depend on, you know, paying expensive fees and stuff.

Matt Perez (30:47):

Yeah. And there are other ways of supporting the organization for sure. It's just that we never explored, we left that stuff be fiat, you know dominated by fiat money. And that's more likely to change. So yeah, there's some in Mexico, some in, and then South America, I don't know Central America of any, but I suspect Costa Rica is probably a good place where you have stuff like that. So, well, thank you very much for your time. It's always, always a pleasure talking to you. And you're not quiet, you are very smart. And what was the other thing that whatever the critic you, it's easy to criticize? And somebody said, criticism is cheap and fast. So thank you for being part of this.

Jose Leal (31:51):

Yeah, thank you very much, Lisa.

Lisa Gill (31:53):

Yeah. So happy to be invited.

Jose Leal (31:58):

Well, I would like to invite you back again because sometimes I get this funny feeling where my hair stands up on end and I go, I want to do this again.

Matt Perez (32:08):

You should say my hair.

Jose Leal (32:10):

Well, no, the problem is I have more hair on my arms than I do on my head. So that's what stands up

Matt Perez (32:18):

Mostly in your face

Jose Leal (32:19):

I just got that feeling. And so I'd love to have you back and maybe talk a little bit more about another topic. Cause I think we dug a little deep, which was good into some of this stuff and it'd be nice to do it again.

Matt Perez (32:33):

So, I forgot to mention that next week we'll be talking to Neil Masongo. I pronounce it in Spanish, so I don't know if this is right or wrong, but Neil Masongo, he's an agile transformation coach with cPrime, and looking forward to that, that one as well.

Jose Leal (32:53):

Awesome. Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa Gill (32:55):

Thank you.


Lisa Gill Profile Photo

Lisa Gill

Tuff Leadership Trainer & Coach

Lisa Gill is a coach and trainer with Tuff Leadership Training. She was included in the Thinkers50 Radar 2020 for her work with self-managing teams. Lisa is also the host of the Leadermorphosis podcast and the author of 'Moose Heads on the Table: Stories About Self-Managing Organisations from Sweden' (2020).