A Report from Dolphin-Shark-Carp Waters in Australia: What Can Happen When an Organization Takes the Model to Heart…And to Lunch on Fridays!

A reader who is on the faculty at a “regional Australia university” writes to tell us about the use of Brain Technologies’ dolphin-shark-carp model of thinking systems in leadership training and other change activities. He has asked for anonymity because things are “a little political at the moment.”

I read your blog with interest and must tell you that [we] are also using the dolphin as a symbol of assertive and positive behavior. It’s been a hard slog though as the number and position of sharks in our organisation is significant. That said, it has dramatically shaped smaller teams within the organisation and started to create a culture that revolves more around how be interact with one another. We hear in our corridors now, ‘Mate, I think you’re being a bit sharky, how about we look at this differently?’ or ‘Come on, stop carping, let’s come up with some ideas and solutions to change things.’ It is slowly helping move us from a reactive, stressful organisation to one that is proactive, open to ideas and able to cope with change.

It is however a constant struggle, for the generational change required is immense. This organisation has traditionally rewarded sharks in the mistaken belief they get things done. It’s that old business adage, ‘I don’t care, just do what I say,’ regardless of the issues at hand. So there is a struggle between the dolphin change agents and the sharks, who are threatened by change and wish to retain the status quo. After all that is all they know and own their success to.

Nevertheless, we are trying and in our division, Information Technology Services, we have a leadership program that all staff must participant in. The 200-odd staff in our division all know that they should be dolphins, some units are even have a Carp Blanche Friday Lunch …purpose: if you got anything negative to say that’s the time to do it. It’s a fun way to get rid of the stress of the week and move on to being a dolphin again. It’s also a great laugh.

We are dominated by sharks in this organisation and that remains an issue. Strangely, a shark is one of the big supporters of the scheme due to the need to improve morale as a core work requirement.

He sees it as a win for him, but has become frustrated because the culture it has generated has worked against him. We have linked this into team development, and so its success is better measured in regard to how staff work in teams and how they approach tasks as a team. It is linked with other concepts such as building high performing teams, leadership, personal development, creating a learning organisation and assertive behavior. We started this whole exercise as a means to allow staff to cope with major change (both structural and process) within the division and to improve our ability to work within small and large team environments including, cross functional group communication.

The upshot is that management have in some ways created a beast they can’t control and are having some difficulty coming to terms with the change. Staff are forming what we call bubbles of leadership, the principle being that as the culture boils the bubbles rise to the top. Dophins, carps and sharks make up an important part of the process. We push dolphin-like behaviors, gang up on sharks and manage/eat carps. It has had some interesting side affects. People are finding their voice, they are questioning and being proactive with their input. People are also questioning what type of organisation we want to work in and to a large extent many are starting to feel like they must move on to create the culture they believe in elsewhere. The pressure for change began from the top but is now being facilitated from the bottom.

It is by no means perfect and is currently in a state of flux. We are yet to move to a new beginning and resistance is starting to come from above. Conversely, individuals who have suppressed real leadership ability are asserting themselves and moving on or up.

My role: I was selected with two others from internal staff to take on a training role within the organisation. One, to allow us to perpetuate the ideas and concepts from an internal perceptive and, two, to cut the cost of external training. We do this for no extra pay, but because we believe that we can make a positive contribution to the organisation and make it a great place to work. Along with that, I find it personally rewarding, and I keep learning everyday as a result.

It’s all about leadership as an individual. Being accountable for your future and the future of those around you. Knowing that your actions and behavior make a difference everyday not just the nuts and bolts of your work, but what you think, how you think what you say, and how you say it. To be honest we have created and achieved far more innovative and constructive solutions as a result. Everybody knows what a dolphin, carp and shark is; it’s become a touchstone to be assertive about behaviors and expectations.

The University sees what we do as tree-hugging and so we are fighting to keep the momentum up. The sharks are circling and they are extremely powerful and large. The end result will be we win and help them win by improving the environment and kick goals, or we leave and start afresh somewhere else. Sometimes a dolphin needs to cut their losses and move to warmer waters.

In broader sense, the University also has a highly successful leadership program which widely promotes Dolphin Thinking throughout the organisation, among other things. It’s amazing how this program has affected people, and helped them feel empowered about their jobs, in some cases inspiring them to move forward with their lives. These people tend to become a bit of a beacon within their areas. A good example is a women I did the program with who has since left to become a script writer, turning her yearning into her profession.

Copies of Paul Kordis’s and my dolphin book, are available here: Strategy of the Dolphin®: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World or Strategy of the Dolphin®: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World

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