Updated: Apr 26, 2019
“I cannot not see the possibilities in every situation” interview with Elvira Kalmár on how she discovered Solution Focus by Orsi Szabó
Elvira Kalmár, Founder of the Go Beyond Project: ODD practitioner, coach, at the time of the interview (2017) Head of ODandD at Magyar Telekom. Original interview (in Hungarian): http://www.solutionsurfers.hu/blog/interju_kalmar_elvira/
How did you discover the solution focused (SF) approach?
It was a real WOW! experience, not only professionally, but also personally. It was during a tough time in my life, or I’d rather say I was on my way out of it, when SF found me. And the WOW! was not about how great this approach is. It was more like: “oh look at that, this is an approach?” It is basically how I live my life.
I think SF – even if it came to me in this form – isn’t so much a coaching method, but a life philosophy. I’m not only using it in coaching, I m living it.
How do you live it? How can one notice this?
In many ways: already at work, in the way I’m present there. No matter what happens around me, I cannot not see the possibilities in it. My first thought is always to look for what can be useful and what can we make out of it.
In my work as a leader this means that we don’t talk about what didn’t work, but instead we talk about what we did well, what has improved, or what kind of resources we discover in each other.
Of course others can see that here something is different: they talk of us like we are one of the happiest departments, a sunny island on the ocean of Telekom.
As organisation developers, we enter different areas, topics, and organizational units within the company, and because we work solution focused, we also introduce it to others by using it, and so it might be an experience as something complete differently to others. I don’t think we ever labelled it as SF work, but we are probably kind of SF ambassadors by using it in every work we do.
Where else can it be seen?
In many smaller and bigger approaches and techniques: For example, we always start the planning of a new project with the common dream – we define what we want to be proud of in the end.
Another example is that everyone in the team can easily notice who did what well and where they made progress. It was important for me in the beginning to create the setting for this. But today, two years later, the team works with this approach all by itself. It’s an important part of our weekly meeting that everybody shares what he or she is proud of, in terms of what they have moved forward or improved. Sometimes we also do positive gossip or resource gossip.
I have biweekly one-on-ones with every team member: these are kind of solution focused coaching conversations in many respects. They don’t necessarily have to be SF conversations, but we talk about individual dreams, wishes for their personal professional development, we notice recourses and sometimes we evaluate with a SF scale.
Where else is it seen?
For example in the way I got into my current scope of activities/job. It started when they couldn’t prolong my contract at T-Systems because of a reorganization. They centralized the HR department, and created a whole internal team at Telekom to do what I had done so far as an external consultant.
I could have gotten sad, or could have looked for a new job and new customers, which would have been quite a long process. Instead I started to get enthusiastic: Wow, they are building a whole team? Couldn’t I just join? I couldn’t, because the team was already filled. Suddenly it turned out, that although the team was filled, it didn’t yet have a leader, so I asked: What if I joined as the leader? Both sides were happy about this opportunity, and now I’ve been here for two years already.
Promotion instead of a dismissal? Wow!
Yes, and I feel that I also introduced this kind of movement to the team. How can we detect the opportunities, and dare to believe that miracles can come true! This team came about as a result of tough company reorganization, and many experienced what it meant for their tasks and activities as a demotion.
Then SF brought you awareness?
Which also gave me courage. As a consultant and organization developer, I had already learned and utilized a lot before. Through the years it became clear to me what works, but since knowing that what I learned from my experience in fact is an existing method, I’ve been using it more consistently, and I dare to bring it to its limits.
For example, you can bring the use of feedback about resources and encouragement to a level where there is nothing else. You can host a train-the-trainer program without any negative feedback or any feedback about things to be developed.
It’s not just about the fact that there is positive feedback instead of negative. It’s a completely different mindset. This is why I usually don’t use the expression „solution focused“, because it sounds like the opposite of problem focused, as if these were the two ends of a scale. But SF works because it leaves this scale. It shows another paradigm and this unfolds plenty of new opportunities.
One of my first steps was to convince the team to start dreaming. Partially individually: What is the “perfect future” for each of the team members, and how can their new position add to this? And partially as a team: What do we dream about together, and how can we achieve it? What was visible back then is about 10% of what we do now. But we needed time to build that self-confidence, courage and professionalism that brought us here.
Is it possible that dreaming is your SF technique?
This question of “a miracle” or “the perfect future”– is all about dreaming for me. And the word ‘dreaming’ itself is important. If you ask yourself: “What would be a good solution for you, what would be ideal here?” – we answer with our brain and our answers contain limitations, the box or frame in which we are used to think. But a dream is surreal, we can include anything.
I experience that teams often surprise themselves by dreaming: they realize that they have common dreams. Not plans: dreams. And there’s a huge difference. Before I knew SF, I still had facilitated the companies I worked with to find their dreams. Today I know better why this works.
How exactly does this unfold?
Lately I’ve worked a lot with believes at Telekom. It’s exciting, because some believes often appear very spectacularly. Like when the organisation chart is deep in the minds of the colleagues, and they imagine the organisational silos so much, it doesn’t matter if they sit right next to each other, they just don’t turn to each other.
We have an open office, so there aren’t any walls – physically. But mentally there are a lot of walls – the silo thinking. If we move away silo thinking and towards dreams and opportunities, we immediately see that we don’t have to go to the director to say something to a colleague in another department. We can just walk straight over to them and talk directly – about anything: also about what we appreciate in them.
Where else do you see this kind of SF approach in your boldest dreams?
I’m interested in the whole of humanity. I’ve been working a lot with teams and bigger organizations these days, and I see what the collective consciousness – for example 8.500 people at Telekom – is able to dream and co-create the future. Where could this lead to in public life, in society?
Working in an ICT company I know exactly in what speed we move forward on the path of digitalization and AI. But I’m sick of those visions like in The Matrix or other science fiction movies, where we project how AI is going to take over power from us.
Why do we imagine this kind of future, and why do we accept it? What would an ideal world look like, if we would dream it together?