I'll start off by saying I had a wonderfully relaxing, restful weekend. Isaiah came to see me in Cali, and we ate good food and slept a lot. His presence is incredibly calming and fills me up, especially the way he can make me laugh. Our weekend together was lovely, and was especially cherished time since we had been through a rough week apart.
Today's session was with an association of blackberry growers. I didn't get any information beforehand on the association, and the "conflict" was unknown as I walked in. Interestingly, one piece was major between the consultant (Lily) and the association head (Oscar): no wonder I didn't get prior information. He refused to even speak with her, but she was the one who could help the association the most. It was somewhat of a bombshell to get hit with as I'm sitting in front of everyone, but I think I got through it fairly well (though who knows, I do have a very expressive face).
I have to admit something... the first thing I noticed when I arrived was the cutest six month old baby trying to move in her little baby walker. She made my whole day better, and I spent at least 20% of the session holding her. It was amazing. It also really ingratiated me with the association... it breaks the ice. Rather than being this lady from the US coming in to tell them how to do things, I became a lady who wanted to eat some unknown boiled fruit and hold their baby.
I didn't realize it at the time, but this changed the tone of the entire meeting from the start. There was a lot of tension from the legal rep of the association, Oscar. He had almost refused to come to the meeting because he said he would no longer work or meet with the consultant, Lily. So we were starting from a tough place, but when I picked up the baby and started introducing myself, the dynamic changed. There's no more power play, and everyone feels comfortable and on a similar level.
Today was different because this association was not working together because they just didn't want to. They knew it was a good idea to do so, but they weren't taking action to do it. It wasn't like the other associations either, because they met very regularly and had fairly good communication. I was at a bit of a loss in the beginning: what do I do here? I found the right answer to be asking questions. So I probed. And I probed. And then I probed some more.
I continued to ask them why they didn't have cooperation in the association. When they pivoted to external factors, I brought them back and asked them why they didn't work together, or agree to set prices together. I stubbornly brought them back to the root of the problem over and over again, and then started asking them what could help.
This was a very interesting learning experience for me... sometimes, I can identify the problem and a possible solution, and it's easy to guide the conversation. In this case, the best thing for me was to force them to face an issue, and start coming up with solutions that THEY thought would work. This was really key... I had no idea how to solve their problem. Sure, I could say "hey, just work together, you'll be better off," but this wasn't realistically going to change anything.
The solution to this is also complicated, multi-faceted and longer term. While I wanted to help them get to a good place today, I knew that wouldn't be possible. They had to take some small steps to build trust, cooperation and better team work. So that's what we put in place. I had them talk through what would be helpful to do in the next six months: first, agree to work together for that time frame without undercutting each other on price. Second, get educated on what they need to do to sell effectively as a group. Third, get more introductions to people who can sell for them in bulk. The biggest thing here was that Lily was the one who could help with points 2 and 3. She was their best bet, and they agreed with it! The session had started out with Oscar not even willing to speak with her, and ended with the two of them scheduling sessions over the next few months together. Afterward, Lily said it was an amazing step, because a closed door had been opened, and she could actually help them. It's also great for the association, because she's a great resource for them.
It felt good to help solve a different problem, and certainly stretched different mental muscles. While people will look to me to give them an answer, I've found the response to be much better if I help them get to their own answer. It also helped bring everyone together, and make the association and consultant feel like they were on the same team. This will be hugely helpful for their future, because now they won't be spending their time and energy fighting, but rather problem solving together.
It's my last week here, I only have three more sessions to go. Two with associations, and one with the leadership of the consulting firm that helps the associations. Now that I'm feeling more refreshed, I'm excited to do as much as I can this week.