Polarity Thinking

The Polarity MAP® is a conceptual and visual heuristic employed to identify the salient tensions (polarities) impacting performance, development and sustained success for individuals, teams and organizations.  Polarities are tensions between interrelated pairs of values, behaviors, or strategies that are equally important even though the tendency is to focus on one to the neglect of the other, e.g., Candor AND Diplomacy, Accountability AND Tolerance, Continuity AND Transformation. However, there are hundreds of possible polarities, contributing to a complex social dynamic, whether or not we are aware of them.

We use the Polarity MAP® to identify the specific polarities influencing you and your organization. In a facilitated conversation with a licensed trained PACT™ consultant, clients define the positive outcomes achievable through leveraging the polarity identified and avoiding the negative impact of over-focusing on one pole.  This process helps clients to see the interrelated dynamics of the ‘bigger’ picture, recognize how their preferences are influencing their behavior, and how they might better leverage a fuller understanding of the polarities (tensions) to realize their short- and long-term goals.  To achieve their goals, concrete Action Steps are defined to pursue the positive outcomes of accommodating both poles over time; Early Warning signs are also established to help monitor progress and ensure that a constructive cycle, with attention to the importance of both poles is maintained.

Our experience using the Polarity MAP® is that it allows clients to make sense of the complexity of interrelated events, circumstances, and tensions they are experiencing in their environment so that they can successfully navigate this terrain as they grow in their leadership mastery.

Presentation of Sandra M. Martinez at the Annual Conference of the Heathcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) at the Philadelphia Marriott on November 6, 2017:

Accelerating the Transformation of Women Leaders from Technical Expert to Strategic Leader: The Power of Polarities.

Accelerating the Transformation of Women Leaders from Technical Expert to Strategic Leader: The Power of Polarities.

Polarity Thinking™ is a framework, a tool, and an analytical process that offers clients insight into the dynamic tensions (polarities) impacting their organizations so that they can develop strategies and concrete actions to address these dualities and drive sustainable success.  Other examples of polarities, in addition to those mentioned above, are: Challenge AND Support, Directive AND Participative, Task AND Relationship, Decentralization AND Centralization, and Administrative AND Entrepreneurial.  We know that navigating the complexity of our work environment is a critical capacity for businesses, government agencies, and non-profits alike to possess.  In fact, consultant Hampden-Turner, who described polarities as dilemmas several decades ago, observed that, in order to sustain success over time, organizations must identify and learn to leverage their key interrelated tensions (polarities).  Research shows that leaders, teams and organizations who leverage polarities outperform those who have not.

Psychologist and consultant Barry Johnson originally developed the Polarity MAP® . It is now an essential element of the Polarity Assessment for Continuity and Transformation (PACT™), an assessment and participative process used to identify the key tensions influencing a social system, to map them in a visual representation, to measure the degree to which the client leverages these tensions for productive outcomes, and to define concrete actions and a strategic design for improved performance and whole-systems change.  In other words, the Polarity Map® process and the PACT™ help you identify where you want to go, to avoid where you don’t want to go, to define how you will get there, and to develop a strategy that considers the complex challenges of the dualities you must navigate. What differentiates the Polarity MAP® and the PACT™ from other processes and assessments is that they account for the complexity of the systems so that they are able to deliver more accurate assessments, and in a manner which enables stakeholders to ‘see’ the ‘bigger’ picture and understand and make a commit to changing behavior required to improve performance.  We work at all levels of an organization- with individuals in one-on-one coaching, with teams and with the larger organization as a whole.

With long experience in utilizing the Polarity Thinking™ framework and processes, we guide your team and organization through reflection and discussion to identify the tensions governing the dynamics in your organization. Then, we support you in defining appropriate action steps and committing yourselves to implement them in order to realize tangible improvement in the engagement of your stakeholders and the performance of your organization. Polarity Thinking™ is currently used globally by businesses, non-profits, and government agencies in leadership programs, organizational development, and as a component of strategic initiatives.  We also work one-on-one with individuals, as needed.  These processes can complement and supplement programs you have already initiated.

The Polarity MAP® is an essential element of the PACT™ (Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation – see below) used for teams and organizations.  Fenix Leadership & Development also uses the Polarity MAP® in coaching engagements and facilitation when it will service the client’s needs and objectives.

The PACT ™ (Polarity Assessment for Continuity & Transformation) is a customized assessment and process used to help individuals, teams, and organizations navigate interdependent tensions (polarities) for greater effectiveness.  The PACT measures and monitors desired results through a Polarity lens and can be used in the context of many different challenges:  Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Strategy Development & Execution, Alignment of Vision, Mission & Culture, and Conflict & Diversity.  The five-step defined below enables the complexity of your challenges to be captured so that you can appreciate the ‘bigger’ picture, understand fully the important influences on your current performance, and craft specific action steps that will allow you to realize your desired results.  Unlike other assessments and processes, the PACT accounts for the interrelated tensions of complex environments in a way that all stakeholders can grasp and apply.  In this five-step process, stakeholders use the PACT™ to:

  • See — Seeing an individual, team or organization and their Polarities more completely
  • Map – Defining the positive outcomes of a focus on both poles and the negative outcomes of a focus on one pole to the neglect of the other; creating assessment-related questions
  • Assess — Measuring how well key polarities are being positively leveraged
  • Learn – Making sense of assessment results from the perspective of diverse stakeholder
  • Leverage – Using all that is learned to achieve the desired results


LAL Harvard Graduate School of Education Video Describing the dynamic of Polarities in Complex Environments

LAL Harvard Graduate School of Education Video Describing the dynamic of Polarities in Complex Environments

How to get Started

#1 – Reach out and e-mail us.  Describe your personal development and/or business objectives.  Schedule an initial conversation with Fenix Leadership & Development to the potential benefits of PACT for your organization;

#2 – Schedule a session with us to further explore your needs and discuss possible approaches, processes, assessments and tools;

#3 – If you decide to work with us, we work with you to agree to terms of service:  Phase 1 -Diagnosis and Design- as well as the overall scheduling and structure of the engagement; We will then initiate and complete Phase 1 and re-calibrate, if necessary, in Phase 2;

#4 – Deliver Phase 2 – the Interventions- collaboratively, working closely with internal sponsor and the design team; and,

#5 – Design further learning and applications, as needed.

Dr. Sandra M. Martinez holds the highest-level credential in the application of Polarity Thinking™ principles and process.  She is a licensed as a PACT™ consultant, certified to deliver this process and technology to individuals, teams, and organizations globally.