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headstart-bmy@express2.indexp.co.in
Paper published in HEADSTART of March 8. 2001.
Are You Zipped or Unzipped?

Productivity is like a zipper.
If you miss the catch at the bottom,
the rest of the zipper is misaligned.

Read on to find out more on the FIRO theory


Have you ever wondered why you (choose to!) blame others? Why you wash your hands off certain problematic situations? Why you go late to work? Why you do not share information with your colleagues? Have you considered why you hide your feelings or often distort information? Why you avoid meeting people or are constantly searching for scapegoats?

Each one of these behaviours is a choice made by you as an individual for the corresponding payoff it offers. Since many of these payoffs are unconscious, they "force" the choice - robbing the individual of a real freedom of choice! All choices, both the unconscious and the conscious ones, are said to fall in phase with one's self-concept and its associated fears, rigidities and defenses. Training and development programmes alone will not help participants to embody the principles of motivation, the five rules of teamwork, the seven principles of leadership, etc. that they may learn so well in the course of their professional life -- as long as their self concept is left unattended to.

Beliefs, thoughts, feelings and choice determine your behaviour. Behaviour has consequences or effects, which spell success or failure. Choice, according to FIRO or the theory of Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation, is the main principle of human behaviour. We make choices, both conscious and unconscious, for the payoffs they offer!
 
 

Towards Making It Work

In an organisation, truth, choice and self-esteem seem to hold the key to productivity and teamwork. If so, the aim of training the human element of employees is to enable them to speak the truth and have a choice, which in turn would increase their self-esteem.

"How I feel about and behave towards myself is the basic determinant of most of my behaviour. If I improve my self-regard, I will find that dozens of behaviours change automatically. If, for example, I increase my feelings of self-competence, I will probably be less defensive, less angered by criticism, less devastated if I do not get a raise, less anxious when I come to work, better able to make decisions, and more able to appreciate and praise other people," says Dr. Will Schutz of the FIRO fame. It was during his experiments with constituting effective work teams in the American Navy during the 1950s that Will Schutz evolved the FIRO theory. Following several years of research on the application of the theory, Schutz revised the theory in the 1980s. In the process of revision, he found his globally popular FIRO-B to be theoretically deficient and replaced it with a new instrument called, Element-B.

According to the revised theory of FIRO, all interpersonal relations could be arising from three fundamental behavioural orientations: Inclusion, Control and Openness.

Inclusion refers to the behaviour of establishing and maintaining a degree of contact with people. Achieving a degree of influence and impact on others constitutes Control. Openness refers to the degree of sharing with others, one's inner thoughts and feelings. In a work context, openness would refer to disclosure and sharing of task-related information (technical knowledge, opinions, insights, fears and apprehensions) with people connected with the task.

Individuals vary in degrees on all the three behavioural orientations discussed above. These interpersonal orientations of behaviour are underlain by deeper-level emotional orientations of interpersonal Significance, Competence and Likeability. The basic source of all the interpersonal orientations, the emotional as well as the behavioural ones, lie in one's self-concept, which comprises domains of Aliveness, Self-determination, Awareness, Self-significance, Self-competence and Self-like.
 
 

How It Works

Productivity is like a zipper. If you miss the catch at the bottom, the rest of the zipper is misaligned and easily torn apart. In human behaviour and work relationships, the catch at the bottom is the self concept or self-understanding.

 

When employees lack self-understanding, the catch goes missing and the following things happen:

  • Teamwork: Members are defensive and teams break down
  • Conflict: Defenses are heightened and tensions escalate
  • Performance Appraisals: They become adversarial and unproductive
  • Health: Psychosomatic injuries and illnesses increase
  • Quality: Programmes like TQM begin enthusiastically, then fail
  • Diversity: Differences threaten cohesion and group performance
  • Leadership: Leaders contribute unknowingly to team breakdown
  • These are obviously undesirable outcomes. They would need to be reduced and their opposites enhanced if organisations care about managing a healthy and sustainable bottom line. How can it be done? How can organisations strengthen the spirit of self-responsibility and foster an atmosphere of openness in the workplace? How can they help their employees enhance their self-esteem and productivity? How does one help individuals in organisations to fix and firm up their zipper-catch?

    The revised theory of FIRO provides the framework. It traverses the zipper end to end -- from the behavioural top, through the emotional middle to the catch at the bottom, the self concept. Based on the framework, Dr. Schutz, designed and tested out a training programme, called The Human Element workshop.

    The workshop, though developed in the United States of America, is being offered in over 17 countries, including Japan. Some of the organisations that have tried and claim to have benefited from the workshop are ITT, AT&T, General Electric, NASA, U. S. Army, Procter & Gamble, Intel, Levi Strauss, Xerox, IBM, Chubb & Son Insurance, James River, The National Institute of Standards & Technology, Shell Oil, and Tandem Computers. So, what makes The Human Element workshop so effective as claimed? It is the simplicity of its principles, coupled with the design and delivery. The principles on which the workshop is based can be summarised, in the words of Dr. Will Schutz himself, as three invitations. The invitations are to explore what happens when we:

  • Diminish our defensiveness and communicate openly and honestly with one another
  • Diminish blame and acknowledge how we collude with one another to create what happens
  • Diminish self-deception and allow ourselves to look inward and know ourselves well.
  • The design of the workshop organises the invitations, mentioned above, in progressive modules. Starting with a module on truth and choice, it advances sequentially to deal with behaviour, feelings, self-concept and defenses, in that order. The workshop includes brief lectures, experiential exercises, validated self-assessment questionnaires, and group feedback and skills practice -- all with professional facilitation. At the end, a team decision module is presented wherein to apply and self-test the learning from the workshop.

    To ensure the quality of delivery, the workshop has always been offered by those trained and certified in The Human Element.
     

    Dr. M.J. Arul
    Professor of OB and a trained specialist
    in FIRO & The Human Element


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