“Captain’s Log, stardate 8675309: Once again I find myself faced with an impossible dilemma. Do I save the planet Pupolon by rescuing the High Priestess? Or do I ignore their plight and get the Aesoptinum needed to protect The Federation? My friends Spock and McCoy have been debating this at length, with no clear answer. There has to be a better way…” [source]

Even if you’re not a Trekkie, the previous quote will look familiar. Captain Kirk caught in yet another impossible dilemma with the emotionally motivated McCoy on one shoulder begging him to save the Priestess and her planet no matter the cost. On the other shoulder the ever logical Spock arguing for the sacrifice of the Priestess and her planet for the good of the Federation.  For the fun of this example, let’s call the scene “Kirk’s Dilemma”.

The world, make that the galaxy is full of “Kirk’s Dilemmas”, or what are known as polarities – contradictory principles that often get in the way of decisions or progress. If you belong to a virtual team, you deal with polarities every day. Take processes, for example. If your team focuses only on creating new processes, you’re likely to ignore existing institutional wisdom and end up missing some very important tools and procedures that may already be accessible and crucial to your work. If you focus only on current organizational knowledge and practices, you could be left behind as the rest of the world modernizes and changes.

This is where Polarity Thinking comes in. If one opposing force overrides the other, conflicts can arise. Polarity thinking isn’t either/or thinking; it’s both/and thinking. Remember Captain Kirk and his dilemma. If Kirk were to choose McCoy’s emotional argument to save the Priestess and her planet over Spock’s logical contention to sacrifice the Priestess for the good of the Federation, conflicts would certainly ensue. Captain Kirk knew there had to be a better way. He was able to save the planet AND the Federation.

What polarities are you dealing with?

Are you searching for a “better way”?

Research Opportunity:

If you are a part of a virtual team and are interested in learning more about polarities, the Center for Creative Leadership is currently conducting a cutting-edge research study to help virtual teams achieve greater success, by teaching members ways to leverage the polarities underlying virtual teamwork. Because of the generous support of the SHRM Foundation, you have the unique opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of your virtual teams through polarities training at no cost to your organization.

If you would like to participate or find out more about this project, please contact:

Jean Leslie
+1 336 286 4417
lesliej@ccl.org

Emily Hoole, Ph.D.
+1 336 286 4442
hoolee@ccl.org

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