NZIM – Conflict Management : TetraMap’s mirror image – conflict & diversity

Like many of life’s “ah ha” moments, the underpinning of Yoshimi and Jon Brett’s TetraMap behavioural model is rooted in life fundamentals and natural simplicity. It owes something to ancient Chinese philosophy, more to the clarity of the brilliant mind of designer, architect and innovator Buckminster Fuller, and the rest to their personal observation of the behaviours of people employed by the organisations to which they consulted, over 18 years.
The Bretts discovered early in their consulting careers that personal conflict was major contributor to organisational waste and blighted progress. That understanding prompted them to seek an explanation and provide simple but powerful metaphor to explain why conflict is so pervasive and integral to human nature. If they could explain the nature of behaviour, minds could perhaps be opened to more positive possibilities, they reasoned.
The extension of their thinking soon revealed that the critical issue in conflict understanding and resolution, one that challenges not just organisations but whole communities and countries today, is diversity. “When you can open up people’s minds to the value of people’s differences and understand why individuals are different and why those differences annoy them, that conflict invariably disappears,” says Jon Brett.
Yoshimi started out using established personality profiling techniques to search for explanations as to why we are like we are. Companies used various psychometric models which attempted to put “people into boxes so they could understand them better”. What Yoshimi wanted, however, was to “make the learning enjoyable, accessible, reasonably priced and applicable across all levels of the organisational hierarchy”.
The Bretts understood the value and importance of diversity, but the word held little organisational pulling power. “It didn’t seem to mean anything. Until one experiences the huge value and benefits that come with diversity, it doesn’t seem to register,” says Jon Brett. “But the phrase ‘reducing conflict’ does register and it is just the reverse. In order to reduce conflict, you have to value diversity.” So their pitch to the market changed. The emphasis swung to explaining the nature of the problem and enlightenment about how to resolve it follows. Out of this rationale, TetraMap was born.
So while reducing conflict is TetraMap’s core marketing message, the Bretts’ real focus is “to help people work more inter-dependently, and to accomplish that, organisations must value diversity”.
TetraMap is behavioural model that uses nature as metaphor, mapping people’s ‘nature’ on tetrahedron using the four elements of earth, air, water and fire as personal descriptors. In that respect it is mind-shifter, replacing the more traditional positive and negative language of, for example, “submissive” or “compliant” personalities.
The metaphor is driven out into wide range of applications from the nature of individual behaviour that offers insights into personal development, communication and relationships, leadership, change and conflict resolution to programmes on the nature of team strategies, planning and sales and service.
It is non-prescriptive model. “We try to provoke creativity,” says Jon Brett. “You don’t get answers. We don’t tell you what the solution is.” TetraMap is, he says, tool designed to help individuals find solutions in collaborative, complex and rapidly changing environment.
Many behavioural models are based around four central pillars. And the Bretts’ adoption of Buckminster Fuller’s four-sided tetrahedron provided the perfect extension of their earth, air, fire and water metaphor. Each element touches the other but there are not opposites in this unique structure which Fuller famously described as “the minimal structural system in the universe”.
The structure, according to the Bretts, graphically explains how people are “just different” and don’t necessarily have “strengths and weaknesses”, descriptor that often drives individuals’ perceptions of themselves and others into contrite or commanding corners.
Since publishing their first workbook in 1995, the Bretts have taken their TetraMap learning tool to the world. They have created global and local network of certified facilitators and licensees. The Bretts and their partners are consulting to some surprising organisations, including the Singapore Armed Forces.
And now they are building their working relationship with NZIM. One Master TetraMap Facilitator, Jan Alley, and two Certified Facilitators, Lesley Coleman and Robyn Walshe, are NZIM trainers and facilitating TetraMap learning in their NZIM programmes. Walshe says that over the past two or so years she has used TetraMap with more than 250 people to gain new insights around engaging with others. “Workshop participants – and coaching clients too – aren’t bogged down in theory,” she says. “It is the most dependable tool in my toolkit.”
“We are very picky about who delivers TetraMap,” says Yoshimi Brett. “The most important thing about it is not the simplicity of the model, or that people get it and that they have good time sharing it with others – it is the whole message about sustainability that sits behind it. By reducing conflict we can create more sustainable organisations.”
For quality control reasons, the company’s international growth strategy has been organic rather than formulaic. The Bretts decided against the standard global distributor route. “We needed to find people that were passionate about TetraMap and who understood the importance of the message,” says Yoshimi Brett. “We only have three associate organisations. One each in the UK, Mexico and Germany.”
TetraMap does not, however, lend itself to online learning without blending with face-to-face learning. “TetraMap is learning journey,” she says. “Unless people see it and embrace it, it becomes just another fun workshop. It is about making connections, about having conversations and about sharing stories.”
TetraMap, according to the Bretts, forces both user and learner to be creative in seeking holistic solutions. And that, they say, is the difference between their approach and more traditional behavioural learning programmes.
TetraMap with NZIM as co-sponsors, will run an international “Making the Connections” conference – which they call TetraHui – in Auckland in February 2011. The conference will feature high profile international speakers on behavioural change and organisational learning. They are all exponents of the TetraMap model.

Reg Birchfield is Life Fellow of NZIM.

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