Another Short Vignette

Here’s a snippet of an exchange I had with a student this morning as I was floating around the small groups:

Joe’s guiding question had something to do with injured athletes failing to communicate what they need to Athletic Trainers.

I had a sense there was far more involved here – there’s a root cause behind the communications issue – so I started poking him. I asked him if he could discern a wicked problem at work…what environment led to his question?

He wasn’t sure.  The whole “issue map” thing was so confusing, he said.

Okay, I asked, athletes don’t want to share. Why?

Joe said, they don’t get to play if they are injured.

Would this have to do with peer pressure. Could we classify that as an observation under a Social variable?  (Reminding him of the issue maps we’d constructed for our Phase II wicked problem.)

Yes! He was suddenly animated and started building on that experience…I wonder if male and female athletes respond to peer pressure in the same manner?

Joe then mentioned the coach. I asked if the coach was part of the social node, or the political (read: power). He said, power, and added that there are NCAA rules at play as well.


What about economics? Is there money involved?

Yes, he said.  There’s the cost for treatment, and the loss of revenue to team and player.

Are you beginning to see a complex system at work?


Now – how do the social, political, and economic connect? How do they play with or against each other?

Drawing a line between the social and the power nodes, he said athletes need to trust the coach to not automatically bench them if they complain…

Can you convert that into a question?  Perhaps even ask, what if there’s no trust?

He did. Joe then recalled a story from High School involving different trainers and how one was far more cautious than the others. This coach automatically benched anyone who came to see him, no matter how trivial the complaint. He said they were afraid of him, and that everyone on the team waited for his off day before revealing anything. .

We were working at the white board, so I went over to where we wrote his first guiding question and I circled the word, communicate.

I asked Joe if he could see – from his own work – if his question was about improving communications, or something deeper.

Joe now saw what he didn’t see when we stated. The map he drew helped him see the full and real problem at work. The high stakes were preventing trust!

He’s now wondering how can Athletic Trainers build trust…which seems now to matter more than simply hearing complaints and applying his skills.



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