As we move through the year, we continue to explore the role of leaders to create shifts in the world and ask the question “who are the leaders we need?”
Through the course of our work around the world, we’ve taken the opportunity to ask a variety of people from different contexts about their take is on the subject of leadership.
Yee Tong, is a social entrepreneur and Director of The Thought Collective, a network of social enterprises, based in Singapore. From his experience of working with youth leadership, his response to the question, “what does it take for an individual to find their leadership?” is that there are three key elements that all have to come into play:
- The narrative and identity of the individual – what is the story you live of yourself
- The competence of the individual – what is the skillset you hold that allows you to be a leader
- The permission they feel they have in the culture to take on leadership
He shared a great little story to illustrate what he means:
“I’m walking along a road and I hear a scream, I turn around and I see someone drowning in a pool. If I say, ‘He’s not my son. That’s not my problem.’ Then that’s the narrative. So I’m saying that I’m only responsible for my family and I’m not responsible [for this child]. And so, I don’t solve it. The second thing is, ‘Can I swim?’ So even if I do care, can I at least swim if I jump in? Third, ‘Is it my pool? Do I have permission to jump into this pool?’.”
Our reflection is that these are questions we can ask ourselves and, where relevant, of leaders we work with.
- What’s the story and my role here?
- What competence exists?
- What permission is there to act?
So much is possible if we consciously and wisely choose how best to step forward as leaders for this time.
These words from Margaret Wheatley resonate for us as leadership is something we return to time and again in our conversations about humanised workplaces.
Over the last half of 2017 we explored humanised workplaces and how we might measure success, focussing on a human-centric approach to impact rather than a mechanistic one.
The role of leaders continues to be vital to that success, and traditional styles of leadership are struggling (if not failing) to deliver in the context of complexity that we all find ourselves in.
So, who are the leaders we need, and need to be, right now?
A complex world means that these questions, of course, are not served with a simple answer.
Over the next few months we’re going to explore and re-explore different leadership options.
As always, we think it’s good to start any exploration with some self-reflection, and offer these questions to prompt that:
- What does leadership mean to me?
- What are my leadership qualities?
- How do I use these in different situations: family, work, community…?
If you’d like to dive deeper, here are a few voices on the subject that we’ve enjoyed:
- Margaret J. Wheatley’s latest book – Who do we choose to be? Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity
- Drew Dudley’s Tedtalk – Everyday Leadership – Your Lollipop Moment
- Edgar Schein’s classic, 5th edition – Organisational Culture and Leadership
- 5 Podcasts on Leadership curated by Inc. – all offering a slightly different angle on the subject.
It feels appropriate to start this exploration by stating that we are not complete hippies, and therefore, are not against measurement per se. In fact, we would argue that the emergence of employee engagement and culture surveys has raised the profile of intangible human issues in the workplace and that the intention and some of the impact has been very positive.
However, we also wonder about some of the negative impact of trying to measure the human / relational aspects of our organisations as we would the more tangible elements of performance and output.
Some of the things we have observed and question:
The frequency of measurement:
If you plant a seed you don’t dig it up every day to see how it is doing! Creating a sustainable shift in patterns of behaviour takes time, and so benchmarking activity can be useful as a means of acknowledging the start point, but measuring every month, quarter or even every year seems pointless and often counter-productive. We either kill the seed before it can germinate or give up watering it before it’s strong enough to break the surface and survive without constant and careful tending.
How the data is handled:
In making the intangible look tangible, surveys can lead to people dealing with these matters in the same way as tangible matters i.e. when we get a report that our manufacturing waste levels are too high, we can work through a production process and identify the sources of waste and then eliminate them, in a systematic, cause & effect way. However, when people say they don’t feel connected to organisational purpose… this is not a simple or even complicated issue, it’s complex, and needs the mindset, skillset and toolset to deal with complexity: creativity, connection and collaboration.
Surveys as organisational deflection:
- Do I treat people with enough care?
- Do we have robust conversations, on an ongoing basis, about how we treat each other?
- Do we create environments conducive to and encouraging of connection and collaboration?
‘They (Surveys) create distance and therefore avoid intimacy’
~ Joan Scarrott
Time, money and energy spent measuring and reporting could be spent connecting, conversing and collaborating:
An employee engagement survey in a global organisation represents a huge investment of energy, time and money. Our view is that if this was invested in getting people to talk to each other, have better conversations, across the boundaries of the organisation, this would resolve most relational issues in organisations.
So how do we strike the balance and get the best out of using measures?
Anyone who has felt love or grief will know that there are powerful relational forces in our world that can’t be measured and managed like machines.
Creating proxy measures can be a useful way to establish benchmarks and, in our view, it would be much wiser to invest in helping people to have better conversations in their everyday work… perhaps we might be so bold as to suggest starting with how people meet.
We will explore some more examples of this is our next newsletter. In the meantime, it would be great to hear from you about where you have experienced measures working well. Or not…
We’ve been exploring the whys and wherefores of humanising our workplaces with clients, colleagues and pretty much anyone we’ve had a conversation with over the past few months and we have yet to encounter anyone who thinks it’s a bad idea or sees no point at all.
Most people see some reason to it. Intuitively, people get it.
Inevitably though, no matter how convinced people are, the conversation turns to questions like:
- “What does a humanised workplace look like, compared to one that’s not?”
- “How do we know what to focus on if we want to make changes?”
- “How will we know if we’re making progress?” and, one of our particular favourites,
- “What will the ROI be?”
What this all boils down to, from different angles is..
“If we do it, commit to it, invest in it, can we measure it?! How will we know we’re succeeding? Will it be worth it?”
These challenges are not new. These questions are not new. Perhaps what’s changed is the urgency of finding an answer that doesn’t revert to the simplest solutions, at the expense of humanisation and our humanity.
The need for this kind of assurance and certainty is symptomatic of a pervasive culture that continues to value tangibility and measurable achievement. If we can see it, touch it, quantify it, it’s real. If we can plan for it, create a logical and linear process for it, act on it, and then measure it… all good. If it’s objective, factual, we trust it. Otherwise, not so much. Otherwise, it falls into the category of “intangible and qualitative” at best, “soft and fluffy” at worst.
We like to know what we’re aiming for, what success will look like – how to measure and demonstrate it and, for some, even that we will succeed – before we commit.
At this time of year, when many people, teams and organisations are reviewing their performance, and planning for the next cycle, being able to build in robust indicators of success remains a priority for many. And robust is about quality as well as quantity.
Connection, collaboration and synthesis are at the heart of a humanised workplace. How do we ensure that we are measuring the quality of these things, not just the fact that they are happening? Take, for example, collaboration – the number of times people meet to collaborate would be simple and easy to measure, but the quality of openness and trust in the relationships, which is essential for true collaboration, how do we measure this?
So, how do we measure the seemingly unmeasurable? What are the indicators of success that we might want to integrate into a humanised workplace? How do we track outcomes and impact, instead of just results? How do we index what’s important and not only what’s easy?
What do you think?
These are questions that we’re going to explore in more detail over the next few weeks. In the meantime, you might like to have a look at this article on measuring the unmeasurable or this Ted Talk by Giorgia Lupi both of which offer a perspective on this subject too.
And then join us next time, when we’ll pick this conversation up…
- We don’t put a warning signs on a road until there have been accidents.
- We don’t provide legal support for women in domestic abuse situations until they are in desperate situations.
- We don’t take mental health seriously until someone is unable to function.
…Why do we need crisis to prove something is wrong!?
These might seem dramatic examples but the same patterns often occur in the workplace
We often don’t truly care for people until they resign or threaten to sue or become unable to function.
The Need to Humanise
The need to humanise our workplaces, communities and organisations has never been more necessary than now. As we approach the era where AI will replace many mundane human tasks, it feels even more important to dial up what humans are really capable of, and excel at.
One of the issues is that we don’t see our organisations as human systems. The dominant mental model is of an industrial machine, with people as components, who can be moved and replaced, and injected with knowledge so they do what is needed.
If we think about our organisations as living human systems, then we need to think about people differently. The trouble with people is that they are complex and sometimes messy. But they are also amazing. Amazing at being able to work together, to come up with new, creative solutions.
This is the potential power that resides in most organisations, often untapped, because it requires us to create workplaces where people can bring their whole selves to work. ‘People are our greatest asset’ might be plastered on the walls of many corporate offices, but the reality is that most workplaces are not safe spaces for people to bring their whole selves into.
And yet, when we leave our personal lives at home or in the car park, we leave part of our humanity behind, which stops us really bringing our full potential to our work.
Test How Human is Your Workplace?.. Really.
You may be reading this thinking that your organisation does care about people. So test this by thinking about what happens in the ‘rub’, when times are tough where do we go?
- Do we keep people development as a top priority?
- Do we prioritise travel budgets to allow people to meet face to face?
- Do we keep investing in the communities and causes we care about, things that make our hearts sing?
I know I have fallen into this trap… assuming that if we work harder, or smarter, we can achieve more as a business. And yet, when I have attended to things that feed the human soul, and dealt with the human conflicts in my business, it has unleashed powerful performance. To work this way we have to believe that, if people flourish our businesses will.
Margaret Wheatley in her book, “Finding our Way: Leadership for Uncertain Times” says:
“In organisations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and positions.”
“Whatever your personal beliefs and experiences, I invite you to consider that we need a new worldview to navigate this chaotic time. We cannot hope to make sense using our old maps. It won’t help to dust them off or reprint them in bold colors. The more we rely on them, the more disoriented we become. They cause us to focus on the wrong things and blind us to what’s significant. Using them, we will journey only to greater chaos.”
This article by Gustavo Tanaka highlights the level of change going on around us every day and explores some of the implications for how we think about and behave in our workplaces: Something extraordinary is happening…
If you have a hunch that something in your business is just not working, and are interested in trying something different before your hunch is proven right, in a crisis… call us
As Meeting Magic moved through its 18th birthday I have been reflecting on the connections between meetings, the challenges businesses face today and the benefits of humanising our workplaces.
One of the main shifts I have made in my thinking about the work we do, can appear to be a spelling mistake!
Meetings – the noun – have a bad reputation. They have become places where people present at each other in dimly lit rooms or on virtual platforms. This does not maximise the human potential in the room, or on the call. In fact it can suck the life blood out of you 🙂
However, meeting – the verb – is the act of bringing people together to collaborate, to connect and converse, to make new meaning. This maximises the human potential in the group, and this (sometimes small) act holds the key to how we leverage the human potential in our workplaces.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog in which I said, strategic planning is an anxiety management activity for leaders and managers who want to hold on to the illusion of control. I also said I would say more about planning in a subsequent blog, so here it is….
This week I came across some wise words on planning from Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge: ‘Long-term planning is irrelevant, if not a hindrance. Strategy should not be about the realisation of prior intent, but rather emphasis on the importance of openness to accident, coincidence and serendipity. Strategy in this case is the emergent resultant. Successful strategies, especially in the long term, do not result from fixing an organisational intention and mobilising around it, they emerge from complex and continuing interactions between people’
I think this eloquently sums up my views on strategic planning. Agile strategy is a way of being, not a thing – it’s a verb, not a noun. So the challenge for us leaders of today is, ‘you can’t buy it, you have to be it.’
Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s strapline is #BeBoldForChange. This got me thinking about what is bold and what stops us being bold. My simple view is that bold is ‘doing something even when you are sh***ing yourself!’ and one of the things that prevents us from being bold is when we feel ‘down’. Here is a lovely parable from Robert Terry about Ups and Downs
The Parable of Ups and Downs by Robert Terry
What makes an UP an UP and a DOWN a DOWN is that an UP can do more to a DOWN than a DOWN can do to an UP. That’s what keeps an UP UP and a DOWN DOWN. The UPS tend to talk to each other and study the DOWNS, asking the DOWNS about what’s UP, or what’s coming DOWN, for that matter. The DOWNS spend a lot of time taking the UPS out to lunch or dinner, to explain their DOWNNESS. The UPS listen attentively, often in amazement about the experiences of being a DOWN. They contrast one DOWN’S experience with another DOWN’S experience and usually don’t worry too much about what the DOWNS are UP to because the DOWNS never get together.
If they did, the UPS would have to shape UP.
It is Valentine’s Day, so it feels appropriate to offer something into the universe about love in the workplace. For any saucy minxes out there, I do NOT mean that this blog is about doing it in the stationery cupboard!!! What I mean is that love is rarely talked about in the workplace and, as a wise friend of mine said recently, ‘the world needs more love’, which I think is particularly true in the challenging place we find ourselves in the world right now.
As organisations grow they tend to take on machine-like qualities, to enable standardisation, replication and scale, and many of their original warm human features get lost. Just think about how many times we meet with colleagues and present at them in darkened rooms using PowerPoint – and leave those meetings with no idea of what’s really going on for them as human beings. It seems like, in doing this, we relinquish something vital and important about bringing people together to do work in the first place.
I have a passion for re-humanising the workplace and, as part of that considering our colleagues as people, whom we may grow to love, in a comrade-like way…. Like the Greek form of love known as Philia.
We are in the heart of kick-off season in many organisations and it’s got me thinking, “what’s the intention of these events, and how could we make more of these valuable opportunities for people to connect face to face?”
I believe the intention of kick-off meetings is to get people aligned on a common direction in the actions they take for the year. Most kick-offs comprise a blend of leadership presenting the goals and plans for the year, presentations on any significant market changes, product presentations, team building, personal planning, and often, some social time. They are usually delivered through a presentation-plus-Q&A style of working so that most of the preparation is focused on the content development.
As described above, I believe the intention of a kick-off is sound – the desire to get everyone in good shape for the year ahead is a worthwhile cause. However, there is a belief inherent in the way most kick-offs are run, which I think is flawed!
BELIEF: IF WE TELL PEOPLE THE GOALS AND PLANS THEY WILL ALIGN THEIR ACTION TOWARDS THIS
Much of my work involves creating self-organising groups. When we create self-organisation we release energy in the people within the system to find their passion and take responsibility. I believe in this way of working so much that I’ve even integrated it into my personal life – here’s an example…
In my pre-children era I used to spend Boxing Day with friends at Kempton Park horse races. It was always a fun, albeit usually cold and windy, day out – a chance to catch up with friends, blow the cobwebs away, and enjoy the competitive spirit of horse racing.
When I was a junior manager I was told that part of my job was to inspire and motivate my team in order to gain their commitment to aligned action. After years of trying to do this I started to realise:
1) People are motivated by a complicated set of factors, all of which are invisible to others and sometimes unknown to the individual concerned.
2) My power to act was in creating the conditions for people to ignite inspiration, motivation and commitment in themselves.
This came as a bit of a relief, because the leadership philosophy of my youth was to develop ‘Martin Luther King-like’ presentation skills, to rally the troops. Unfortunately, I found myself lacking in these skills. However, what I am able to do is create the conditions for rich dialogue in which people inspire themselves. I have learnt that the level of commitment and motivation people can create among themselves is far greater than I can achieve by imposing my views.
There is a conundrum about virtual working in the business world at the moment…
Most people need to work virtually in their jobs now and companies have invested millions in technology to support this.
We all ‘get’ the commercial benefits of working virtually (saving the expense and time of travel) and the benefits of collaborating with colleagues and partners, to progress work with ‘many heads’ involved, not just one.
We all feel we ‘should’ know how to do this, and yet it feels like wading through treacle. Even the more tech-savvy younger generation, for whom the technology isn’t a boundary, are not getting the productivity benefits promised by the tech platform producers.
Why is this?…
In my humble opinion… it’s because the technology does not understand group dynamics, and how to foster effective collaboration between human beings. In fact, I will go as far as saying, you can achieve great collaboration and productivity with quite crappy technology, when you know how to work with people in groups.
Last week we ran another one of our virtual working sessions – a series of three interactive webinars for people who want to collaborate more effectively in dispersed groups. The group members came from different companies and different countries, and all reported similar troubles in virtual meetings: difficulty in managing engagement of diverse groups; trouble converging on robust decisions; struggling to resolve conflicts and differences of opinion in these spaces; not to mention all the technical difficulties with varied broadband capabilities, and audio problems.
So, what’s the answer?…
A key step, when a group decide to come together, is to get really clear on what level of collaboration is needed, and therefore how much trust is needed in the group. For example if a group come together to just share ideas, and don’t need to converge on decisions together, then lower levels of trust are fine for this quality of work, and therefore it is possible to get away with less attention to group development. However, if a group are going to be involved in making strategic decisions and driving action, then higher levels of trust are needed, and more attention needs to be invested in getting the group through the stages of group development, so that they can collaborate effectively. If a group are going to be involved in effecting change, then real attention needs to be given to developing high performance in the group, otherwise their group dynamic is likely to prevent them being able to effect any shifts in the organisation.
What is group development?
There are many models for group development. Probably the most well-known in the business world is the Tuckman model – Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. However, regardless of the theoretical lens you use to look at a group, at the heart is a focus on the human system, in service of the results they need to achieve. In organisations these days groups of people are often thrown together and expected to collaborate, as if the magic of the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts will happen automatically. The downside I see of the virtual space is that it seems to focus attention on the work flow, without considering the human flow, and this means that many groups are not getting the results they could when working remotely.
Supporting group development – start with small things?
Considering the human dynamic in any work done in groups is important and small things can make a big difference. For example, whenever I work with a group I will take time to check-in and check-out of the work. This doesn’t need to take long – in our team calls each week we just go around each person asking for one thing that ‘sucks’ and one thing that ‘rocks’ ; yesterday we did a check-in and check-out that involved each person sharing one word about how they were feeling. For many groups this can feel counter-cultural at the start, but the huge benefit of check-ins is that they give a sense of how each person is before launching into the work. Check-outs help us understand what people are taking away from a session, rather than assuming. We are all human, not robots, and therefore the things happening within the context of our lives affect how we think and feel about things. Being transparent about what is going on for us is the first step towards building trust and respect in a group, and is particularly important in virtual working where we don’t have some of the visual cues about what might be going on.
So, next time you connect in a virtual meeting, take time to consider the humans on the other side of the screens. What could you be doing to foster greater trust and inclusion in the way you work?
A quick lesson in acupuncture
A few weeks ago my dear friend and colleague, Kenda, told me about Urban Acupuncture. Apparently this is the practice of using small things to improve community spirit e.g. a phone box library or a small community garden. This conversation got me thinking about how small interventions can create great change, and what this might mean in an organisational context.
So, I then went on to speak to my Father. My Father was an Anaesthetist who specialised in pain relief. He came from Colombo, in Sri Lanka to train in Western medicine at UCL in London, and went on to integrate acupuncture into his treatment of Chronic Pain. After a brief conversation about acupuncture, here is what he summarised in a letter to me…
The practice of stimulating pressure points in the body, in order to induce relief from bodily ailments stems from Biblical times and beyond. It embodies a holistic approach towards the treatment of Human Disorders. Some of its characteristic features are, that it is relatively non-invasive to the body, it is almost free of any side-effects, and last but not least, it is inexpensive.
About 33% of patients attending the Chronic Pain Management Clinic would feel almost cured after treatment with Acupuncture and another 33% would experience worthwhile relief from their symptoms. Patient selection for treatment is important, as with all forms of Clinical Therapy.
As I read his notes I became more and more excited about the parallels between my Father’s work and my own. Maybe his work in relieving people of pain wasn’t so different from my approach to change in organisations!
This was my train of thought…
Metaphors for organisations and the underlying assumptions about change
The need for perpetual, sustainable change in organisations is becoming more apparent than ever. If we consider the old paradigm of change in organisations, it stems from the underlying metaphor of an organisation as a machine. The puts focus on the intellectual challenge of fixing what is ‘broken’
- A machine needs external intervention to tweak or change – it cannot change itself
- For an entire machine to change, the external intervention needed to be ‘all over’ the machine
- As change occurs parts are discarded to the scrap heap.
I think of organisations as big groups of people – living human systems. When we focus on organisations as living systems it shifts the focus onto stimulating and nurturing change from within. Living systems change in different ways
- They are capable of self-change – often triggered by subtle external shifts
- Change can be organic or metamorphic – either way the DNA of the organism remains the same
- When living systems change there is little or no waste as energy transfers from one form to another
The application of acupuncture to human systems
If we then apply my Father’s thoughts on acupuncture to organisations, then we need to take a holistic approach to the whole human system and identify the pressure points to induce change. If external interventions are needed then the needles need to be sharp and skilfully applied to effect the ripples of change that flow from the pressure point.
Most importantly, I take note of my Father’s last point. ‘Patient selection for treatment is important.’ Unlike in high intervention medicine, where the patient is anaesthetised, in acupuncture the patient is awake and alert. Organisational acupuncture only works when the leaders of the organisation want to change and are willing to commit to some discomfort in themselves as they become the change they want to see in others.
These days I think it is generally acknowledged that collaborative planning is more effective than a leader locking herself in a room with a towel on her head and figuring out all the answers. However, there is more to collaborative planning than just getting a group of people together in a room, and hoping the magic of multiple perspectives will take place. Having spent 17 years facilitating group planning, here are some of my thoughts and ideas for those heading into the year end planning cycle.
Who and how to involve
It might sound obvious but getting the right people involved and being intentional about how we want to collaborate is key. Collaborative working doesn’t necessarily mean consensual decision making with everyone involved. Sometimes it is best to pick a small team to co-create a plan with. Sometimes we consult with a wider audience as input to planning or we can test draft plans with a wider group after a small group has done some work. Alternatively, getting a large group together to do the whole thing in one go can be hugely effective, but be mindful this requires large group facilitation expertise.
So, I find it helps to map out all the stakeholders and then look at them individually and think about how you want to engage with them. A kind of plan for how to plan!!
The pace that most businesses are moving at, combined with the pressure on many leaders and managers means that little time is made for reflection and learning in the workplace these days. The tendency is to do a cursory glance at the results from last year, before drawing conclusions and moving into future planning. This often leads to repeating patterns in businesses, which never get resolved.
So, I would encourage anyone doing planning to make time to really explore the facts and data of what has happened, then look at how things happened and the different experiences of that, as a source of rich learning and hindsight that can dramatically inform future plans.
Insight is the bridge between the past and the future. Profound insight is rooted in data, but in the age of BIG DATA, we need to be choiceful about which data we pay attention to and how that is converted onto information, before knowledge and then wisdom can be formed.
Insight development also benefits from using different modes of knowing. Most senior teams have a preference for the logical cognitive space, and leaders are usually highly developed in their thinking skills. But how often do we really leverage the amazing right brain capability of human beings. Our right hemisphere enables us to sense and notice patterns to bring insight that analysis of facts and figures can’t.
Oh to have a crystal ball !
I know we are called Meeting Magic, but unfortunately my magical powers do not extend to being able to give groups ‘Mystic Meg – like’ qualities. So, instead we have to develop strategies that are rooted in foresight – this means extrapolating from insight into what might be. This work REALLY benefits from right brain work. By this I don’t mean lying on bean bags coming up with crazy ideas, I mean creating an environment in which ‘right answers’ are not the goal, a more exploratory creative way of thinking… wondering why things are the way they are now, and what that means for how things might be.
The art of great planning is to create a plan that is sufficiently grounded in reality that people can see it will work, and yet it has sufficient stretch that it creates a slight tension. The pulling together of plans which build on hindsight, anchor to insight and stretch into foresight is key.
Then we need to think about how we sense and respond throughout the forthcoming year, so that we notice if those insights change and the strategies need to change with them. This approach is the art of agile planning – planning for the unplannable – knowing and working with the fact that we live in a changing world – behaving like an organic, living system, rather than a machine.
So, I hope you find this useful thought provocation to enable you to think about howyou go about planning this year. Just remember, like any good cook, it’s not just about having the right ingredients, it’s also about how you combine them that determines whether your meal is a delight or a disaster!
I’ve spent the last two weeks in week-long immersions with groups and I feel like I have fallen back in love with group working again. This experience has reminded me of the HUGE potential that exists when people truly collaborate together and the work that needs to be done to get there.
This chart is a summary of just some of the key theories around group dynamics and the factors that influence group development, and yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. People, as individuals, are intriguing – who knows why we do the things we do in our complex systems of thoughts and feelings. When we then compound that by bringing groups of people together, we create even more complex systems of behaviour that range from the predictable to the bizarre.
I have spent my entire career working with groups and still experience a range of emotions in these spaces, from fear and frustration to heartfelt admiration for the pure tenacity of humanity.
What never ceases to amaze me is that groups are still thrown together in the workplace, and expected to collaborate effectively without any care or expertise in group dynamics. Just think what this means for the decisions that are made in senior leadership teams, when they come together! What wrangles go on in these groups for power and authority? How conscious are they of their decision making processes, and therefore the efficacy of the decisions they make? How much attention is given to the maintenance of relationships in these groups, versus the tasks they are expected to work on?
And yet the magic of groups is that when we work with a group to understand and embrace differences, face into the conflicts arise, and focus on robust collective decision making (rather than individually needing to be ‘right’), we can do amazing work together – that is where the magic happens, and that is the work I love!
Last week I had the chance to teach a group of NTL Organisational Development practitioners about the power of visual working in OD. The main concern for many people starting to work visually is the need for drawing skills, but I believe the key to creating impact is in HOW visuals are created, the greater level of collaboration, the greater the organisational impact.
My work last week lead me to develop the visual collaboration continuum below:
Illustration – Image production in a studio and then ‘pushed’ out to a group.
Graphic recording – Listening to a group and writing / drawing what is heard..
Graphic facilitation – Public, visual charts integrated into facilitation design to support group dynamics.
Visual Organisational Development – An integrated way of working that leverages visual working to effect change.
I know that graphic charts are compelling and this is leading to greater use of visuals in the business world, which I am delighted to see, as it supports clearer communication, greater engagement and creativity in the workplace. By using this continuum I hope to clarify the different ways of using graphics and visuals for different organisational impacts.
I see an intention to collaborate coming from the top of most organisations, integrated into visions, strategies and plans. It is widely accepted nowadays that, in most organisations, there is value in collaboration – both collaboration internally, between departments and regions, and collaboration externally, with customers and suppliers. But it appears that the reality of this intention is often a long way from the productivity and innovation benefits hoped for. Exhaustive mediocrity is caused when groups are unable to make choices and try to accommodate all views, resulting in everything being done at the lowest common denominator level.
Last week I was part of a team leading a collaborative leadership development programme. One of the insights from this group was that few people experience genuine collaboration both in the workplace and outside. Without this experience, the mindset and skills are not developed for collaboration to become a reality.
The good news is that collaborative muscle can be developed. By creating positive collaborative experiences we can shift mindsets from negotiating to collaborating. Once people are in the collaborative mindset then they want to learn the skills to support this way of working.
I expect you know what I am going to say now…. one of the easiest places to start creating collaborative working is in meetings. Meetings already exist in most organisations and they are the everyday places where people experience collaboration (or not). So, give it a go…. collaborate effectively… one meeting at a time!
The modern world means we’re meeting in a very different way but we haven’t evolved that quickly and human beings still have the need for real human interaction. The way we do things is often complex and in a face-to-face environment you can create trust and commitment much more quickly than you can in a virtual environment.
In order to build trust, humans assess a number of factors in other people including their ability, integrity and benevolence. The first two factors play a big part in early working relationships while the assessment of the latter comes later.
Being able to judge someone’s ability and integrity can often take more time in a virtual environment as there’s often not as much interaction as there is in face-to-face meetings. However, trust can still be built at a slower pace but it’s also quicker to deteriorate too.
I’ve seen working relationships break apart quickly because a conflict has been dealt with over email when it warranted more interaction to rebuild the trust.
In a face-to-face environment there’s less façade and if someone isn’t really engaged, the rest of the meeting attendees will be able to tell. Virtual meetings allow people to be more transparent about how they feel and if they’re not interested in a meeting they simply won’t engage.
In a virtual meeting some participants can hide behind their computer screens without paying full attention to the task at hand. Social loafing is a well documented phenomena that can be applied to working in a team in this way. Much of this is down to team size and what individuals can get away with but the correct kind of communication plays a huge part in this.
This can be combated in the virtual environment by breaking down complex tasks and making everyone accountable for a small part.
This is why a blend of virtual working and face-to-face meetings is so important. While it might cost money to bring a team together the pay off is a team that works better together and gets more done.
Virtual working is not a bad thing, in fact it’s integral to the modern work environment. Here are some tips for getting it right.
Set ground rules
Research shows that most people multi-task during a conference call. In order for their attention to be focused on the meeting at hand, it’s important to set ground rules for your team.
This is especially important if you’re a leader working with a new team. In order to establish trust from the outset make your first meeting with the team in person as this can help set the stage for future collaboration.
Technology is important but so are skills
With all conference call and collaborative software you’ll be able to learn the basics but there’s another element of training needed for leaders working with virtual teams. You need to know how to build trust, use the software effectively, and structure your meetings based on the work that needs to be done.
Virtual meetings are so important but a blended approach is needed to help build trust and encourage teams to work in the most efficient way possible.
The wave of interest in visual working has crescendoed in the last five years. I attribute this to many factors including: the increase in global working, in which pictures paint a thousand words; the use of iconography in the electronic devices we use every day; the popularity of books by David Sibbet and Dan Roan, who have made this way of working accessible to business people.
The downside I see in the appeal of visual working, is that visuals are often used without understanding the implications of the choices being made so. To the untrained eye, it’s all about pretty pictures.
There are three dimensions to working visually
- The process by which the image is created
- The underlying metaphor and architecture of the image
- The way in which the image is used, once it is created
Within each of these dimensions there are multiple choices, which means there is a broad range of different results that can be achieved by combining them. In this article I hope to shine a light on the first dimension, by looking at the different ways graphic images are created and the impact this has.
I have summarised this into four discrete areas, yet the reality is that within each field there is a variety of application. For example within graphic recording: some recorders work privately, on sketchbooks; some work publically on large charts; some work completely real time; some do the outline real time and complete in the studio; some work in colour; some in black and white. These variations in each area mean it is more of a spectrum than four clear choices, but I hope this segmentation starts to shine a light on the options available.
|What is it||Impact on group||Pros / cons|
|Illustration||Illustrators help people communicate more effectively through their skill in developing images that support verbal or written words.|
This is usually done in a studio, not live with a group.
|By communicating through pictures and words, people tend to be able to take in and remember information better.||✓ pictures bring things to life|
× the pictures are developed by the illustrator and therefore not ‘owned’ by the group.
|Graphic recording||Graphic Recorders help groups see the conversations they are having through their expertise in listening, visualising and use of metaphor.||The group can SEE the conversation being recorded all on one page. This acknowledges contributions and makes people feel heard.||✓ Captures attention|
✓ Supports group memory
✓ Useful summary
× Often added as an afterthought, late in the preparation of meetings
× not integrated into group process
× Little group ownership
|Graphic Facilitation||Graphic Facilitators work with groups to help them achieve their outcomes through their combined expertise in group process and visual architectures.||Conversations are are designed with a focus on group outcomes. The group can SEE their contributions being added to the charts. The group can make new connections as individuals see their perspectives alongside others.||✓ Focusses attention|
✓ Supports trust and respect
✓ brings clarity
✓ supports group decision making
✓ strong ownership by the group
× for full impact the visuals need to be planned as an integral part of the design – not added as an afterthought
× the combination of facilitation skills and graphical skills are harder to come by
|Visual Organisatational Development Consultancy||Visual OD practitioners work to improve an organisation’s performance through their expertise in human systems, system architectures.|
|Group work is designed within the context of organisational needs. The visuals help the group develop clarity in complex situations. The way the information is synthesised in this approach enables new insights and meaning to be drawn by the group.||Same as above and…|
✓ visual synthesis brings new insights aimed at business impact
× very few people worldwide can do this
In the complex, fast paced, global world we live in, I believe that visual working has huge potential power. The key to unlocking this power comes from consciously and intentionally choosing the right visual tools for the right jobs. I hope this article has shed some light on this field. In the mean time, if you are interested in finding out more about this area of work, get in touch.
I have been reflecting on the post-referendum chaos in the UK, through the lens of change, which I practice in my work. These reflections have lead me to be hopeful, and here is why
- There needs to be chaos before profound change. Just think about when you tidy out the garage at home – no, really, it’s the same thing! The garage has to become a scene of chaos, as boxes become unpacked and decisions are made about what to keep and what needs to change, before a new order can return. It’s the same with human systems – groups need to get all jumbly and chaotic before they can settle on a new way.
- There is a change in the conversation. One of Margaret Wheatley’s principles for profound change is, ‘When the conversations keep going round and round, we should change who’s in the conversation’. We seem to have been going around and around, superficially talking about the state of our nation, without addressing the real issues at stake. The intervention of this vote seems to be changing the conversation – changing the nature of the conversation and getting different people involved.
- Paying attention to the shadow side in all of us. As people have been grappling with the decision to Remain or Exit Europe, some extreme views have emerged. Racism towards immigrants, and Contempt for less educated views are just a couple that I have seen. The positive that comes from these views being aired, is that we are forced to really see the range of views in our country. However unpalatable we might find then, they are in each and every one of us, in some form, and it is only maturity that means we don’t act upon them. By paying attention to the breadth and depth of views about the issues facing our country, we are much more likely to surface the complex polarities that drive our system.
There is probably some fear in all of us, when we consider the uncertainty of our current economic and political situation. Fear rarely brings out the best in us, as it tends to lead to the less mature responses in us all. So, I refer you to the words of Marianne Williamson, ‘As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’
What is the light within you, that can support our country moving through this change, to create a positive, respectful and inclusive future state?
As the concept of self-management becomes more popular, there is much dialogue about the shift leaders need to make in order to make space for a ‘bottom upwards’ movement. Whilst this is a key shift that’s needed in organisations that want self-management to thrive, there is also an equal shift needed in staff supporting the leadership to make this shift by taking responsibility. Read More ›
This article was developed for Enlivening Edge.
In 1999 I left my well-paid, corporate job to pursue my passion for facilitation and co-found Meeting Magic. Meeting Magic (MM) provided meeting facilitation services for large corporate organisations. Three years later Ingrid, my co-founder, and I were at capacity and the vision for the Meeting Magic Network was born. Little did I know the journey this would take me on! A journey to becoming Teal. Read More ›
It was recently International Women’s Day. There has been a lot of media coverage about the value of women in senior roles in organisations. It’s a shame that this kind of insight is still shared as if it is new, but it is great that this is being widely appreciated now. Whilst some organisations wrestle with diversity quotas for the number of women on the Board, I would like to offer my personal views on a philosophy of diversity that goes deeper than that. Read More ›
Mastering how to clarify your meeting purpose, how to craft your desired outcomes, and how to create meeting outputs will make for highly impactful meetings. We are passionate about meeting facilitation, graphic facilitation, and visual engagement. Call us to begin the conversation about your meetings and how we can support you. +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our enquiry form to tell us a little about your meeting facilitation needs. We’ll get back to you quickly to help sort it all out.
Frederic Laloux is focusing thinking on organisations. Every generation seems to have a voice that challenges how to imagine organisations. Reinventing Organizations is his book that encapsulates his thoughts. We have much in common with Laloux.
We find that we have been on the path to what Laloux calls the Evolutionary stage or Teal. (He uses colours to help identify the stages of his organisational understanding.) Katherine Woods shares her thinking about Meeting Magic’s relationship to Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. She summarizes the basics then makes the connection to our passion for meeting facilitation and how to change organisations through high-quality meeting.
There are three foundational ways of working that help identify if Teal is the colour of your organisation.
- Attention to purpose. Is the purpose of your organisation or, indeed, your meetings have clear purpose? This goes beyond visions, missions and goals. Question and think about your purpose.
- The whole person. Do you consider each person in your organisation from the perspective of them as whole persons and engage them on that level?
- Self management. Once you have identified your purpose and know you people do you trust them to step up and do what they say they will and do you give them the space to manage their own work?
Some of this thinking has been around for some time. Some of it is new. We’ve done a lot of thinking about all of this.
Give us a call to discuss how you engage Frederic Laloux’s thinking no matter the colour of your organisation’s stage. +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our enquiries form to tell us what you want to chat about.
We are proud of what we know and believe about meeting facilitation and the power of meeting. From our experience working with clients for nearly 17 years, we are passionate about supporting the ‘verb’ of meeting. Meeting is where communications happens, whether that is two people or hundreds of delegate participants. We know meeting facilitation, graphic meeting facilitation and how meetings impact organisations. Watch our new overview video then give us some thoughts on what you hear.
We facilitate meetings to get to the purpose, outcomes and outputs that move your organisation forward. How we work with you is to explore your desired outcomes, clarify why you are having this meeting, agreeing an agenda, then delivering to plan.
We enjoy meeting. We support meeting to get results. Call us on +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete our enquiry form so we can get this conversation going.
Creating a mutual relationship with outsourced suppliers
There has been a theme in the conversations I have had this week. The theme is about customers, outsourced suppliers and how we go about buying services into organisations. This has got me thinking about the the paradigms and pitfalls of B2B services buying that I have experienced as both customer and supplier.
Organisations place a big emphasis on the management of suppliers of raw goods and products. There is a clear link between these tangible suppliers and a company’s ability to deliver. However, I think there is a lot more ambiguity in the area of services buying and I see the need to shift, as organisations evolve into new ways of working. Read More ›
For some, planning for meetings is a last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants process that might result in an agenda or meeting plan. We believe very strongly, based on our collective experience, that every minute of meeting planning has a high return value during the meeting and results in robust agreements and actions. Read More ›
We’ve been doing virtual meetings with our clients for some time. Recently, we’ve also been seeing a trend to ‘blend’ virtual within face-to-face (f2f) meetings. This plays out when a global team or group has remote portions of the team not able to join them in the room. Read More ›
There are many ways organisations improve, change and become better. Enlivening Edge offers a dialogue about identifying next stages of organisational development and discusses how to get to your next stage, whatever that may be. We’ve joined that dialogue with an article in their newsletter: it offers our perspective on how to get to your next stage. Katherine Woods, our CEO and Managing Director, and Kenda Gaynham, our Senior Facilitator and Trainer, have laid out a very clear strategy for creating change one meeting at a time.
Meetings are where work happens. Well-facilitated meetings, using graphic facilitation, visual thinking, and strong meeting process, are where change can best be managed. This perspective is one of the options Meeting Magic brings to you organisations. We work with leaders, managers and teams to explore the current context in which they work, consider what has worked or not worked in the past, and enliven a future vision of themselves and their success.
We would be delighted to talk with you about your meetings, whether you want organisational change or not, to explore your thinking about how to make your meetings better. Changing meetings can change organisational thinking. We know this from over 16 years of experience. Let’s get a conversation going and see how we can support you. Call us at +44 (0)20 1628 4711. Or, complete our contact form giving us a few details about what you want to explore. We’ll set up a chat and go from there.
From time to time we will be posting case studies of recent work. Most of our work is highly confidential and proprietary. Occasionally, with the client’s approval, we are able to post a brief summary of a specific piece of work. In this case, the client requested anonymity but agreed we could post a general description of what they had achieved. Read More ›
How mindful are organisations of the potential of meetings? How many organisations pay explicit attention to leveraging the power of how people meet? How aware are leaders of organisations of the (usually inexplicit) operating systems they create through the way they run meetings? Before we explore this in more detail, let’s take a look at what we have found…. Read More ›
The image above is a visualisation of Frederic Laloux’s descriptions of organisations from his important thinking described in his book Reinventing Organizations (RO). The image was created by Katherine Woods to visualise RO and to, quite literally, see what Laloux is articulating.
Laloux has had a profound impact on our own organisation as well as the work we do with clients, which is and has been deeply rooted in working collaboratively. The work we do puts conversation and collaboration at the heart of meetings, virtual and face-to-face, to get the best out of people. We have been doing this work for over 16 years.
We actively participate in the Reinventing Organizations community. The contribution we can make is to offer a forum for some of the great conversations that have already started around being teal to develop. Watch this space for our 2016 Being Teal event.
Get in touch to find out more of if you’d like to participate in the event at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more about how to have truly beneficial conversations and to collaborate more fully give us a call at +44 1628 477 114 or complete our contact form telling us a little about what you want to achieve.
In August I made a business trip to Singapore where I met with clients, consultants and friends. One of the people I met with was Noel Tan, the current chairman of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) for Singapore. We shared perspectives on the changes in the market for facilitation in large organisations over the last 16 years, generally noticing that facilitation is much more widely applied in business today than it was back then.
From my perspective this is a positive trend, as it is indicative of the appreciation of how collaborative working can deliver great business results. However, there is a negative side to this, which is that as people are exposed to facilitation more they see the benefits and think they can do it. Personally I think this is bonkers, which you will see below. This desire to ‘give it a go’ is partly due to people’s hunger for good meetings, partly a desire to do good by the group or the organisation, but perhaps mostly attributable to a lack of awareness about what it takes to be an effective facilitator.
Maybe you can drive my car
I learnt to drive when I was 17 (yes, a very distant memory!). Up to this point in my life I had a great deal of experience of being driven, by my parents, by friend’s parents, in the school bus, etc. However, at no point did anyone suggest I might just get in a car and give it a go, without some expert supervision. Let alone would they have suggested that I drive other people.
When I started to learn to drive, with the support of a driving instructor, I became very aware of some things that I had been unaware of when I was being driven. For example, I had to consciously remember to ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’. By the time I passed my driving test, I had practiced driving enough times that I could drive safely, but I was still very conscious of what I needed to remember each time I got in a car. I had to be aware to ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’.
After a decade of driving I could drive safely without having to over think it. The ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ mantra came to me like second nature. Anyone who was a passenger in my car would not have necessarily noticed what I was doing. Even so, I would not have considered myself a Lewis Hamilton, currently the #1 Formula One driver in the world. If I had wanted to take my driving to another level I would have needed to substantially develop my driving skills before launching onto the track!
So, bear with me. Becoming a highly competent meeting facilitator is like becoming a highly competent driver. You wouldn’t launch yourself or your colleagues onto a track to compete with Hamilton without a great deal of training. So, here are the points I am making with relation to facilitation:
- Good facilitation is invisible to the untrained eye but is felt in the smoothness of the experience – much like driving with a competent driver.
- It takes expert support to develop facilitation capability – whether that’s training, coaching, or co-facilitation with an expert facilitator.
- To reach an expert level in facilitation takes years of practice and ongoing development to achieve the capability needed to use innovative tools, without endangering the group.
And that last phrase is really the point. Facilitators who are untrained can endanger the success of the group. They can influence groups to their own thinking. They can actually move groups to poor decisions and not gain critical alignment, agreement and commitment. And, in the case of tension or conflict, can mishandle situations that have the potential for lasting damage for individuals and the group.
Have a test drive but learn your limitations
So, by all means, I would encourage anyone wanting to have a go at facilitating to jump in and test your skills and comfort. And it is important to recognise where you are on your journey and to understand that, without external intervention, we all have blind spots! Training, coaching and expert assistance is vitally important in learning to drive. Learning to facilitate well is equally important. The facilitators journey is one of acknowledging limitations and gaining insights into how to ‘drive that car’.
An inspiring and creative approach to optimizing the outcome of every meeting.
Meeting Magic has decades of experience in supporting the development of facilitation capability for managers, leaders, project managers, change agents, and consultants in all sectors and in all levels of businesses. We know how to train people in a pragmatic way that enables application at whatever your level, whether beginner, intermediate or advanced. We can support your development through coaching, training, co-facilitating, modelling best practices and presentations about the impact facilitation can have.
An invaluable tool to help you succeed in business, whether as a formal facilitator or someone who wants to get things done properly.
Our next advanced facilitation open training course is the 11th and 12th of November. We offer in-house, bespoke/custom training in facilitative leadership, team development, taking vision to action, and virtual meeting facilitation. Give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 to chat about which workshop works for developing your driving skills or might support your group’s learning. If you complete the contact form, telling us about your learning goals, we will get back to you as quickly as we can.
A fantastic set of inspirational facilitators and trainers who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to deliver a truly great course.
This interesting article opens up new ways of thinking about the structure of companies. There are several new ways of thinking about organisations and organisational management. But do these new structures really help? Are these new management structures any more successful than legacy structures? Read More ›
We know the Autumn conference planning is in full swing. You have a team of people coordinating and contacting and creating and figuring and on and on. And, we know you are sitting there working on the content so it is relevant and energising and fun and that you get the biggest bang for the buck. And yet, your conferences engender more dread than excitement. More quiet whinging than positive buzz. What is that about? Read More ›
This article in the San Francisco Chronicles online service SFGate published on 11 June 2015 holds that leaders who are defensive about their actions and decisions are less trusted in their organisations. Have a read and then have a think with us. Read More ›
As I am sure you are aware, an increasing amount of corporate work is done virtually, thanks to technology platforms like Lync, Skype for Business, GoTo Meeting and the like. However, we consistently hear from our clients that meetings in the virtual space have an even worse reputation than those that are face-to-face. Read More ›
How mindful are organisations of the potential of meetings? How many organisations pay explicit attention to leveraging the power of meetings to drive the organisation’s performance? How aware are leaders of organisations of the (usually inexplicit) culture they create through the way they run meetings?
How do meetings play out in your organisation? And what are the implications of this for your business? Is there room for improvement? Read More ›
I t is my view that HOW things get done has as much impact on bottom line performance as WHAT gets done in business. Most organisations have unhelpful patterns of behaviour that recur in the way people work together (in meetings). These disfunctionalities lead to slow and poor quality decision making. By looking at meeting culture organisations can identify what’s getting in the way of performance and drive more effective ways of working.
This is not just academic! This approach is practical and it doesn’t add work into your business, it utilises the spaces that exist in business to drive change.
I work for all kinds of large organisations. They are all fascinatingly different — that’s why l love my job! And yet, I’ve not yet met an organisation that’s got it cracked when it comes to harnessing the power of people working together in a consistent and scalable way. Read More ›
This article on the BBC News website on the 9th of June caught our eye. It frames the issue of trust of leadership quite well. It identifies the issue and uses some good examples of the need for trust.
We find that the article struggles a little not so much on why leadership needs to build trust but on how to build trust. Exploring practical ways of building trust is a difficult thing in a brief article as each organisation is different and each leader is different, with a multiplicity of experience and baggage and personal points of view on the full range of issues they encounter on a daily basis. Read More ›
We know from experience and from thoughtful feedback that working visually and including graphics in meeting facilitation works tremendously and impactfully for groups, especially when making complex decisions. This article reinforces our experience and throws in some of the science around visual thinking and the impact graphic knowledge has on our brains. Enjoy the read!
If you want to explore how we can support your visual thinking in and out of meetings give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete the contact form. Let’s do some visual thinking together. And, if we do a virtual meeting we can show you how it works!
When we run our open training course on advanced meeting facilitation there is a point in the training that always sparks debate. This happens when we explore the art of meeting design, when we refer to the sections of a meeting as ‘conversations’. These are the parts of a meeting that might traditionally be referred to as ‘agenda items’ but we call them conversations because we believe this gets to the nub of what they should be. Read More ›
We know that sometimes the language of working together can get a little tree-huggie. Co-creation can sound like a trip in the woods with flowers in the hair. We get that. Read More ›
Leadership comes in many forms and leadership communications comes in many styles. Some leaders ‘tell’ as their primary leadership style, others ‘sell’ their ideas, and some will ‘test’ ideas in order to gain input and buy-in.
Over the 16 years of our supporting clients we are discovering a new breed of leaders who understand that consultation with stakeholders as part of idea generation, strategy creation and innovation gets them strong results. Read More ›