Off The Charts Notes on meeting productivity, the power of groups and about making big things happen across the organisation.

24April 2017
An evening with 80 other accountants exploring challenges around communicating and engaging non-financial people with financial information may not be everyone’s idea of fun but stick with me…. I am fast approaching the 30th anniversary of qualification as a chartered accountant and if I am typical of the group in terms of the amount of experience in the room then collectively there was around 2,400 years of experience that is an amazing resource! After we’d broken the ice we set about identifying the challenges and there were a number of themes that emerged that I will explore in a series of articles. Finance professionals have for many years worked with colleagues in different functions – and not all of these colleagues speak ‘finance’ or numerical language! What we are usually seeking to achieve when we share financial data is to create knowledge that then affects behaviour. So let’s just unpick that a little… What do I mean by knowledge? We each take in data and information and make sense and meaning from it based on our own experience and values. This is something that is completely unique for each person as no two people have exactly the same life experience. Knowledge is the meaning we each make from data and information. Our actions or behaviour come from the meaning we have made. So if you have ever wondered why people have taken action you didn’t expect after sharing a spreadsheet of data with them you might just begin to see why this can happen.

A key learning here is to get really clear about the story you want to tell and what action you are seeking from that then think about how best to present the information so that when people make meaning they are more likely to come to conclusions in line with your own.

Using visual language creates clarity and understanding Communicating with others visually is highly effective in creating greater clarity and understanding. One familiar aspect of visual language is using graphs in presenting financial information. This simple visual way of presenting data is often helpful in supporting the story that we see in the data. In getting the story we want to tell across more clearly to people there is a higher chance the meaning taken from it will be more consistent. There are many other options in visual language and you absolutely do not need to become a great artist to use them either, trust me, I know this! For example, when working with a European finance team who needed to improve their month and year-end close processes having implemented SAP I used a very simply drawn arrow on a large sheet of paper on the wall and a lot of post-it notes and we mapped the process together. This created much greater clarity and understanding of why things needed to be done when they did to meet reporting deadlines. It also allowed the team to identify opportunities to make improvements that made the process more efficient and effective. Another approach that has worked well for me is to use a simple drawing to represent a metaphor.  So for example communicating a three-year revenue target using a picture of a mountain with the target at the top and camps along the way to illustrate annual progress. Really simple and very effective as everyone knew what we were aiming for. The choice over what type of visual to use comes down to what outcome is sought, or to put it another way, what story do you want to tell and what actions or behaviour do you want as a result? Creating clarity and understanding when working with a group is one factor in building trust and improving performance. Visual working is a great tool to use in achieving this and a great way to demonstrate the creativity and innovation that our roles as finance professionals require.
15March 2017
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.’ Most leaders can see that our world is complex and constantly changing. However the thing that seems harder for us to embrace is that how we work needs to change, from within! Becoming agile is not something we can buy, or probably even see, and in a world that is obsessed with tangibles and measurement, that's hard to grasp. The warm familiarity of a strategic plan is just too alluring to let go of! I asked my colleague Fiona Stratford, ex-FD and accountant by training, what she thinks the cost of planning is in most organisations. Fiona identifies three levels of cost:
  1. The tangible cost of time spent planning – for someone on an annual salary of £100k, the cost per day is £500 in the UK.
  2. The lost opportunity cost – what would people be doing if they were not spending time planning.
  3. The intangible impact of planning on people – planning is often not a motivating experience, and there is the impact on people having to keep on top of their plans.
So I think it is fair to say that, the illusion of planning is costing organisations dearly. Imagine an organisation where this was invested in nourishing human connection and spirit - now that would achieve results! That might all sound a bit ‘Mystic Meg’ to those of us who are pragmatists. To allay your concerns, I have experience of very practical ways of developing agile working but they all started by looking at my own ways of working and being willing to change my working practices. This is personally challenging work, and part of lifelong learning, rather than an injection of training - but the results are profound! I have not yet found an organisation that has developed agility despite their leaders so, when we choose this route we have do take a leaf out of Ghandi’s teaching, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’
09March 2017
“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality”   Plutarch This quote sums up for me how change really happens.  It is about leading change by example, or to put it another way, truly walking the talk.  A change in how we behave or how we do things has an effect on those around us. The beauty of this is that we are all capable of making change happen. If you want to see something specific change in your organisation or team culture, maybe you are seeking greater collaborative working, more creativity or agility. What is it that you can develop more in yourself to support this? On a deeper level we can work to continue to develop ourselves as aware, awake and truly alive human beings and bring this into the workplace. In many organisations, if you talk to people who work there, they have very strong reasons for why they work where they work and do what they do. Really understanding these reasons can actually be the ‘pants on fire’ drivers for people’s behaviour and for change. Just think about the potential that could be untapped within your team or organisation if you can truly connect to this. This is about really getting to know and understand people as whole human beings not just the bit that comes into the office and does the work.  It means creating an environment where people feel comfortable about bringing their whole selves into. Can you see the benefits of this for everyone and the organisation? How often is the work environment truly lacking in humanity? At a physical level we often see muted colours and uniformity – that’s not human at all! It certainly doesn’t encourage people to be who they are – a very large part of each person is left at the door when they walk in or possibly in the car park, on the train or on the bus when they switch into ‘work mode’. It is so much more than just the physical environment that matters here. How can we as individuals and leaders create a work place where people show up as their whole selves, contribute through all of their talents and are truly valued for all of this? You won’t be surprised to learn that I believe this starts with each of us. By bringing our whole selves into the work place and truly showing up we give others a way to do this too. Taking time with people to let them see more of us and to listen to what is happening for them.  If we are also comfortable with not having to have all of the answers we can truly unlock potential. It really doesn’t need to be dramatic either as small changes in how you are at work can make a big difference. I know this is true from personal experience. From someone who has had her ‘pants on fire’ about this for many years I am hopeful that this connects with you too.
08March 2017

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. After a while, the DOWNS weary of talking to the UPS. They tire of explaining and justifying their DOWNNESS. They think, "If I have to explain my DOWNNESS one more time, I'll throw UP." And so they form a process which they call "networking and support groups." This act makes the UPS nervous. Three UPS together is a board meeting; three DOWNS a pre-revolutionary activity! Some UPS hire DOWNS, dress them UP, send them DOWN to see what DOWNS are UP to. We sometimes call this "personnel and affirmative action." This creates a serious problem for the DOWN who is dressed UP with no sure place to go. That DOWN doesn't know whether he or she is UP or DOWN. That's why DOWNS in the middle often burn out. Sometimes what the UPS do to smarten UP is to ask the DOWNS to come in to a program one at a time to explain their DOWNNESS. UPS call this "human relations training." OF course, the UPS never have to explain their UPNESS, that's why they're UPS rather than DOWNS. There's good news and bad news in this parable. The good news is, we're all both UPS and DOWNS. There's no such thing as a perfect UP or a perfect DOWN. The bad news is that when we're UP it often makes us stupid. We call that "DUMB-UPNESS." It's not because UPS are not smart. It's that UPS don't have to pay attention to DOWNS the way that DOWNS have to pay attention to UPS. DOWNS always have to figure out what UPS are UP to. The only time UPS worry about DOWNS is when DOWNS get uppity, at which time they're put DOWN by the UPS. The UPS' perception is that DOWNS are overly sensitive; they have an attitude problem. It's never understood that UPS are underly sensitive and have an attitude problem. I used to think that when DOWNS became UPS they would carry over their insight from their DOWNNESS to their UPNESS. Not so. Smart DOWN—dumb UP.  

What I love about this tale is that it is amusing and yet it makes a serious point.

In organisations it is often the ‘Downs’ who have the finger of the pulse of what’s going on, who probably have the insights about what is key to staying ahead of the curve, and yet it is often ‘Ups’ who are the leaders.

In the words of Robert Terry himself…

The tests for leadership are: Are we grasped by the injustice of the issues that need to be addressed? Are we in dialogue in up-down relationships so that we do not have blind spots? Are we in motion to address issues in collaboration with others? Our goal is to get rid of arbitrary up-down power relationships. We should not have up-down relationships based on color, gender, or anything else that is arbitrary and capricious or has to do with how we’re born. Rather, we need to find ways to stand side-by-side, so that as we look out at the world together, we can eliminate any of the barriers that keep us from building an authentic, vibrant, human community. The Parable of Ups and Downs exists in several versions. It appears in two books by Robert Terrry: Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action (ISBN 1-55542-547-X) and Seven Zones for Leadership: Acting Authentically in Stability and Chaos (ISBN 0-89106-158-4). Robert Terry was the President of Zobius Leadership International (formerly The Terry Group) and his work is now carried on by The AWL Group. You can find a shorter version of the parable at Thankyou also to Walt Hopkins, for helping me find the source of this parable.
14February 2017
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. Personally I love Brene Brown’s view on love – taken from her book ‘Daring Greatly’ ‘We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give and get, it is something we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people, when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.’ Regardless of which definition of love we are talking about, there are three elements considered universally necessary for love: Understanding, Acceptance and Appreciation. These quotes speak to these dimensions of love and how they relate.  “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~ Voltaire “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia  “Love is a by-product of deep appreciation.” ~ Debasish Mridha   So, if there are people you work with who you appreciate, and possibly love, because they SEE you, all of you, and they have your back… tell them how much you appreciate them today and add some more love to the world! Kenda Gaynham – thank you for all your help, including your input into this blog – I appreciate you, and the way you see me, and I see you!
09February 2017
We are very used to hearing that change is a constant in business nowadays. As most of the work that I do is about change on some level then it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As individuals we change constantly – cells in our bodies are replaced on a cyclical basis, we react and respond to events around us that bring about a change in how we behave or sometimes what we believe. Conscious change is not easy. If you think about trying to change an old habit or develop a new habit both can be really challenging and often we need support to find a way to make the changes. There is some pretty shocking research about people with heart conditions who were advised to make lifestyle changes for health reasons. The shocking part is that only one in seven actually made the prescribed changes despite knowing their lives depend on this. This led to some fascinating research by Kegan & Lahey published in their book, Immunity to Change. There’s a brilliant video summary – ‘an evening with Robert Kegan and immunity to change’. The key principle here is that our existing behaviour or habit often is underpinned by very strong reasons. Critically we are not always aware of what these reasons are so when we try to change we fail because the original reasons override any new motivation. So change at an individual level is challenging. Now think about relationships in your life, friends, partners and family for example. All of these relationships are changing constantly too as we are affected by experiences so too are our relationships – and this is a massive simplification as it is anything but a simple cause and effect dynamic going on. We know that maintaining any meaningful relationship over time takes work and effort. It definitely isn’t easy either. So we know all of this complexity about people and change. Yet when it comes to organisational change there seems to be a belief that you can drive change in a way that is akin to fixing a machine that isn’t working quite they way it should be. Organisations may take a logical/cognitive approach where someone or a group of people present the change and explain all the good reasons why it is needed. The expectation here is that because it has been explained the necessary change will happen. It really doesn’t. There is a big flaw in this approach as any presentation however inspiring is a tell. The presenter is telling the audience what to do and we know from the research mentioned above this doesn’t work. Actually we don’t need the research to back this up – just ask yourself when was the last time you changed your behaviour simply because someone told you to? Communication around change can be truly excellent, well thought through and engaging and still it doesn’t land. Each of us makes meaning from what we hear, read or see. For us to choose to do something differently we need time to make meaning and make a commitment at both an intellectual level and at an emotional level. Simply – we have to want to do it. Even then we will probably need support as we work to change. This support is a very important aspect and can be tricky to get right as there can be many and varied factors that can influence the outcome. A simple example can illustrate this. Greater collaborative working is often a change that leaders are seeking as they recognise that no one person can know all there is to know in the business. A very sound logical reason for change. So why is it that people don’t just change? There can be a lot of reasons – maybe there is a bonus scheme that is based upon individual targets or perhaps the predominant management style within the organisation has been telling people the answers and what to do. This may make people wary of taking action that hasn’t been instructed. Possibly the leader him/herself is unaware how much their own behaviour impacts on change. An example here is coaching that really isn’t coaching – just a nice way of telling people what to do. I believe working to create change requires an approach that works with the whole system – and the levels within it: e.g. individual, relationships, groups and organisation, recognising that in each case it is a complex living system where cause and effect is not linear or direct. There definitely isn’t one single method that brings about change; it is not something that can be done to any individual, group or organisation – it comes from within and sometimes small changes can have big impact. For me there are two quotes that I believe support this: “Be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou What are your thoughts?
07February 2017
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!


The belief above is also connected to the way we plan in large organisations – a subject that warrants a blog in itself. Suffice to say, I think traditional planning approaches don't work. I say this as someone who has tried them all and has seen all our plans proved to be works of fiction; any correlation between our year-end results and the original plans was largely coincidental. I think this is because: A) the way we make decisions in groups is often fraught with pitfalls - things like, people saying what they feel they ought to say, rather than what they think. B) more significantly, the world we work in is so complex and fast changing that we cannot predict and control in the way that our planning methodologies were designed to do. In my opinion, planning is an approach to anxiety management for leaders and managers, sustaining an illusion of control. Again, more to come on planning in another blog>>> So, back to the kick-off. I've stated that the belief underpinning the traditional kick-off is flawed. My rationale for this bold claim is: * there is loads of evidence that people can't take in more than the first 10-20 minutes of presentations. This is quite a well-known fact and yet, it is still blatantly ignored in meetings, where people are expected to absorb hours of content. * what motivates people to commit to action is complex and personal to the individual, so 'mass alignment' doesn't work. People need to make meaning for themselves before they will commit to action. * the underlying organisational metaphor that reinforces this way of working is that organisations are machines, that people are the component parts of the machine, and knowledge is the oil that lubricates the parts.

Having spent most of my career working in groups I see organisations as simply very large groups of people, living human systems. If we take a human systems approach to getting in good shape for the year, then the focus becomes: how do we nourish these people and the connections between them so that they are in good shape for the year ahead? Of course, the underpinning belief for this approach is different.


My experience is that this is not the dominant belief in the leadership of most large organisations. There is a growing awareness that we need to attend to the human system, but this is still secondary to the mechanical approaches. In fact, it took me a long time to really GET this myself. Even though I specialise in working with human systems, I needed to try all the traditional planning and alignment stuff, and see it fail, before I was willing to throw those traditional crutches away and try something different. Last year we used our own January meeting entirely for the development of the team. We faced into some tough stuff and one team member described it as the “best and worst meeting” all in one. We ended the meeting with the smallest list of actions ever and yet the most significant action I have ever experienced in our 18 years of business was taken after the meeting, resulting in a year of profound and ongoing change for the organisation. Just to be clear… I am not a complete Hippie. I know that business performance is important. I run a business myself. I am not proposing that we spend our valuable face to face time sitting around singing, or tree hugging. I am proposing that we attend to organisational health as a means to achieving business performance. I believe we can have both. In fact I think we need both. So, if you are open to trying something different from the traditional kick-off, maybe you've tried the tired old ways and they haven't worked, or maybe you are a visionary who intuitively sees the potential of a human systems approach. I would encourage you to consider what your team needs individually and collectively to nourish and prepare them for the year ahead. Some questions to support this thinking: * how clear are the group on their collective aims? * how much do they trust each other? Are there any unresolved conflicts? * how clear are they about their roles and how they need to work together? * how committed are they to action? And how well do they hold each other accountable for their actions? Your answers to these questions should help start to form your views about where you focus in your meeting on the people and their connections. AND... If you have already done a traditional kick-off meeting and have a sinking feeling that it didn't achieve much, DONT PANIC!!! All is not lost! This work can be done throughout the year once we realise the limitations of the traditional approach and are willing to learn from this and try something new. I would advocate the benefits of external support for this work. I called upon a skilled facilitator and OD practitioner to support me in this work as I believe it is impossible to facilitate effectively whilst holding a leadership position and deal with group conflicts.

From someone who has been on a journey of letting go of transactional approaches and is now embracing new ways... I wish you well.

10January 2017
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. Race meets aren’t much fun with small children so, with the birth of my children came the birth of a new idea: “Why not have a day at the races from home!?” It started with two families getting together and has evolved over the years to its most recent format with 40 people. What I love about the way this event has changed is that everyone can bring their families, with at least three generations mingling together. It grows each year with new families joining us, and everyone has a great time, including me. So, here is my formula for a great Boxing Day Races party –
  • Each family that's invited can bring their relatives along, as long as they bring enough leftovers to feed them!
  • I provide tables for the food, plates and cutlery and I cook baked potatoes to accompany them.
  • When people arrive they put out their offerings and everyone shares what they have brought to the party.
  • Each person places £10 into a sweepstake for the race.
  • Each person then bets on one horse per race and gets three points for first place, two points for second and one point for third.
  • The races are televised, so, in between eating and drinking, we watch the races. It's very noisy as people really get into supporting the horses they bet on.
  • At the end of the race meet we tot up the scores and award prizes.
  • This year we reached a new level of self-organisation – one of my friends created an app! Everyone placed their bets from their phones before they arrived, or on arrival, and the scores popped up on the app as the day unfolded.
  So here are the principles of self-organisation demonstrated here
  • a common purpose – to have a good time
  • a leader who is willing to let go of control – I am always happy to eat drink and be merry!
  • ways of working, including decision making, that are understood by all – in the rules of the betting and the roles everyone takes
  • an effective induction and integration of new people. I love the way that each year the core partygoers explain the format to the newcomers.
  • the space for people to take the initiative and improve the system – the app!
My experience is that self-organisation appeals to the core of human nature, for people to take control of their environments. It inspires passion and responsibility in those involved, and releases the leader from the constraints of needing to control, so that she can be free to lead the fun. So, as we enter 2017, a fresh new year, have a think about which elements of self-organisation you might want to integrate into your life. Happy New 2017!
12December 2016
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. This might sound a bit fluffy… Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that just by getting a group together inspiration, motivation and commitment will magically emerge, far from it. The conditions for rich dialogue require structure, intentionality and attention to the subtle biases in our culture that get in the way of self-motivation. I also don’t want to sound dismissive of presenters who have the ability to inspire. The growth in popularity of TED Talks is proof that there are people all over the world who have the ability to inspire through their stories. The art of taking that inspiration and landing it in action is the dialogue that follows. When we create structured dialogue it has the power to unleash motivation and commitment. Let me give a specific example… A common approach taken in business meetings is to have presentations followed by question and answer sessions (Q&A). If we unpack that approach, the implications are:
  • The presenter has the answer to the group’s questions
  • ·Implying that the expertise lies with the presenter, rather than the group, unconsciously disempowering the group
If we shift the emphasis in this approach to… STIMULUS – short, impactful presentations in easy-to-digest format, aimed at stimulating the listener’s thinking. (For ideas on how to do this, take a look at Nancy Duarte’s philosophy on engaging communication CLARIFICATION – a chance to ask for points of clarification DIALOGUE – about where the stimulus takes people’s thinking, what it might mean and the implications for the work in hand. … then we are much more likely to light the touch-paper of motivation. If we haven’t then it will be apparent in the dialogue, whereas in the presentation format I first proposed, dissent and lack of motivation remains hidden. So, to go back to the title question, I think that inspiration, motivation and commitment lie within each of us. These are not things that can be ‘done’ to us by others, they can only come by unleashing what we have inside us. If you are charged with getting others to be inspired, motivated and committed, then my offer to you is to invest your energy in the design of high-quality dialogue, rather than searching for inspirational speakers.
27October 2016
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?
27October 2016

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. Love, Pops 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.
27October 2016
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!
27October 2016
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!
27October 2016
Not an obvious comparison perhaps but when I think of my own experience, working with groups as a facilitator and as a not-quite-novice tanguera, the common ground is evident. [embed][/embed]

Not seeing it? Allow me to elaborate….

Most people come together to work, either face-to-face or virtually, in a meeting; the working equivalent of a dance floor space. Both engagements have recognisable forms and combined moves, based on principles of connection and collaboration. Both are also emergent and co-created moment-by-moment as they play out in real time. It takes a lot of dedication and conscious practice to become good at both dancing and working collaboratively but, really, neither are ever truly mastered. There’s always more to learn. The execution of these two arts requires a solid foundation of skill overlaid by an improvised responsiveness to both the music and each other. This, at its most profound is fluid, nuanced and completely dependent on partnership working. Both require a basic understanding and knowledge of the forms but if we only ever maintain a cerebral awareness of the practice, what we can achieve together is less powerful. We also need to fully engage our intuition and senses to make the most of either situation. When it works and flows, there is almost nothing more meaningful (or beautiful) that we can be a part of. The moments of ease and grace belie the effort involved but create a desire to persist and improve. One is never quite the same after the experience. Being committed to working together is so important, to create something you just wouldn't be able to do alone. It depends on trust and also requires you to each hold your own space whilst being aware of and responsive to the whole dance floor (or working group) at the same time. It’s so important that people think about the way they work together and how we approach the work that needs to be done. No matter whether you are a partner in the dance, a leader or participant in a meeting, no one individual is truly more important than the other. Without our partners there would be no dance at all. This is why, for me, when I work with a client group, it’s like accepting an invitation to dance... and when it works, great collaboration and Argentinian tango have a lot in common. What does great collaboration remind you of?
Image credit: Rosemarie Voegtli
29September 2016
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.
19September 2016
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!
19August 2016

There are lots of things written about meetings – particularly about how bad they can be! But great things happen when people meet, and there have been some meetings that have changed our lives:

  • In 1898 when Thomas Eddison met Henry Ford and encouraged him to continue his work as an engineer.
  • In 1967 when Bill Gates and Paul Allen met and then went on to found Microsoft.
  • In 1943 when Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met in Tehran to decide military strategy.

Can you think of a meeting that you have experienced where you came away thinking, “that was good!” or “we achieved a lot”?

What was different about those meetings? What makes a meeting a positive experience for you?

I suspect that the positive meetings that come to mind may well have three things in common:

  1. Real clarity of purpose for the meeting.
  2. The right people were there to do the work.
  3. Attention was given to how work is done – the human aspect.

Taking each of these in a bit more detail.

Clarity of purpose

If everyone involved in a meeting knows why the meeting is happening and what the expected outcomes are then a really good foundation is laid for a good meeting:

  • It allows people to prepare and think through the topic(s) and challenges in advance.
  • It helps to maintain focus in the meeting.
  • It ensures that you know who needs to be there.

The right people to do the work

Successful meetings happen when work really gets done in them and not in the squeezed time between or after meetings.

A great way to think about having the right people in the room comes courtesy of Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff in their book Don’t just do something, stand there!. They use the acronym ARE IN to examine whether the right people are involved.

So to ensure that the work needed can be done the meeting needs people with:

  • Authority to act
  • Resources – contacts, time, money
  • Expertise in the issues
  • Information about the topic/issue that no one else has
  • Need to be involved as they will be affected by the outcome and will have views on the consequences

An example to illustrate how effective having the right people in the room can be is IKEA. The retailer successfully decentralised a global system for product design, manufacture and distribution in just three days. This meeting involved 53 people from 10 countries and included customers and suppliers as well as the internal teams from IKEA. (Weisbord & Janoff, Don’t just do something, stand there!)

The focus also needs to be on the work within the meeting and by this I mean actively doing things that lead to an outcome, not just sharing information updates. This can be a very inefficient use of valuable face-to-face time when there are other more time effective ways to keep everyone updated.

This leads us to how the work gets done.

Attention to how work is done

Each person in a meeting is unique and paying attention to this really helps to deliver a good meeting and strong outcomes.

It involves thinking through how to:
  • Keep people focussed on the work
  • Build trust so people feel able to contribute their best thinking
  • Manage information effectively
  • Handle decision making and also the physical aspects such as breaks

The more people that are involved in a meeting, the greater the number of perspectives there are. Harnessing this diversity of perspective is where real breakthroughs can come. Often this can involve sticking with it when it feels pretty uncomfortable. This discomfort will be different for different people. For example if you tend to be future focussed in your thinking you may feel frustrated when others in the meeting talk more about the past. Or if you are more task oriented you will perhaps be bemused by those who are focussed on how any change may affect people. The thing to remember is that all perspectives have value so take a deep breath and hang in there, it is worth it!

When people share lots of ideas and perspectives it can feel as though it will never make any sense and there is then a huge temptation to leap to action and decisions. This is where people tend to have a need to move to comfort and display symptoms of AAS (Ambiguity Aversion Syndrome) or UID (Uncertainty Intolerance Disorder)

However staying with the ‘groan zone’ for long enough can result in some amazing new thinking that leads to a much better outcome. The real breakthrough thinking, new ideas and solutions come in the space that sits between chaos and order. So maybe the next time you are thinking about meetings move the focus to what works. After all, we can all do our bit to make a change for the better.

03August 2016
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. Meet face-to-face 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.
18July 2016
Involving people affected by change and allowing them to provide input on issues that matter to them, for example, large scale strategic conversations, is more likely to result in people owning the change process and its outcomes’ This principle was used in our work with the University of Brighton recently, here’s what we did... Our challenge The University of Brighton may trace its history back to 1859, but its style of governance and the scope of its ambition for students and faculty is notably forward-looking. The institution serves 20,700 students across five campuses and  is a major university for the professions.  UniBrighton’s strategic leadership called us in to help drive a new approach to developing their future strategy: they wanted the initiative to be broad, inclusive and engaging, to harvest and build upon a wide and representative selection of ideas and suggestions. Our approach
  • Five 2½ hour meetings at each campus, supported by a website and informal drop-in sessions.
  • Journey-through-time meeting design, highlighting the assembled experience in the room by creating a physical circle of participants ordered by their length of employment at the university.
  • Creation of a large-display history map drawing on the wealth of experience in the room, supported by live graphic recording.
  • Graphic representation of influences impacting the university now and in the future, to spark off ideas for the future from each group. We used a large-display mind-map format to graphic record inputs.
  • Summaries of ideas generated at each meeting, in spreadsheet form, to make it easy for the strategic teams to assimilate quickly.
 Our results The meetings were attended by around 400 staff from all campuses, across the professorial, administrative and support dimensions. The concentrated ideas and insights will be used to create a strategy for UniBrighton. uobmetrics Our learning The physicality and psychology of people arranging themselves in order of their length of service was fascinating!
  • It wasn’t a pecking order – fresh thinking came from all parts
  • Passion isn’t based on length of service.
An awful lot can be achieved involving a lot of people in a very short space of time! What people said mm2
16July 2016


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.  
16July 2016
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?
27June 2016
The following is a case study from our supportive facilitation work for a global leader in cardiac and vascular care needing to reinvigorate key teams for long-term direction and strategy change.


Coming from a period of transition and change, the client's challenge to us was to reinvigorate their key teams and muster forces behind formulating and implementing long-term direction and strategy change.


  • Intensive one-to-one briefings with teh GM and other key leaders and stakeholders to set out clear goals for our involvement
  • A multi-state implementation based on a two-day meeting design with facilitation of the vision and strategy sessions plus a separate planning meeting
  • Additional visual documentation and outputs supporting communication of the vision and strategy to all staff and stakeholders at an annual kick-off event, which was also part of our support and design remit.


  • The leadership's compelling three-year vision and roadmap is firmly in place, with clear objectives and ownership
  • Highly positive feedback from the kick-off event, gaining a strong response at a facilitated confereence that engaged delegates in multi-way vision and strategy conversations rather than one-way sharing.
If you are in transition and periods of change needing vigor around alignment give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or, complete our contact form letting us know how we can help with direction and strategy change.
20June 2016
The following case study is from pro-bono planning sessions and meeting facilitation for a small UK non-profit that wanted to agree new strategies while avoiding pitfalls from their past.


Escaping Victimhood is a small, non-profit organisation specialising in the support of families of victims of violent crime. The organisation had recently received Lottery funding, presenting them with a cross-roads--choices about hos they move forward. There were some long-term conflicts between team members with different ideas about how things should be lead within the organisation. Our mission: agree a strategic way forward and resolve the difficulties in working together in the past.


  • Interviews with everyone attending the meeting
  • Design and preparation of materials for a one-day strategy meeting
  • Facilitation of a one-day meeting in Oxford, UK
  • Production of documentation for ongoing development and communication of the strategy


By the end of the meeting the board had agreed:
  • a long-term vision
  • their strategic priorities
  • new ways of working to avoid the pitfalls of the past.
If you have challenges in identifying and implementing you stratgies, particularly because of historic communications difficulties, we may be able to help out. Give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form and tell us about your strategy challenges.
13June 2016
The following is a case study from meeting we facilitated for a Japan-based technology company with global operations that needed a shift in strategy to make step change in applying their work.


Here the CEO wished to make a shift in strategy and align his team in order to make a step change in the results for the forthcoming year. Our mission was to guide the CEO and his leadership team through two days of vision and strategy work and to come out with tangible plans.


  • Briefing from the CEO to clarify what he wanted to achieve
  • Interviews with the team coming to the meeting
  • Development of the design and materials for a two-day leadership meeting
  • Graphic facilitation of a two-day meeting in the Thames River Valley
  • The development of visuals from the meeting for onward communication to the wider organisation.


By the end of the meeting the leadership team had developed:
  • a long-term strategy for HR
  • strategies to achieve the vision
  • plans for the next year with objectives, actions and allocated resources
  • agreed next steps for onward communication.
If you need to align global teams, from one department or across functions, give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form telling us about your global teams and what you want to accomplish.
06June 2016
The following case study is from meetings we facilitated for a global drinks company that had grown rapidly through acquisitions.


The CEO needed to get together the heads of all the business units to converge and agree on a single strategic way forward. Our mission was to take a group of individual business leaders and start to form a united leadership team.


  • Briefing from the CEO to clarify what he wanted to achieve
  • Interviews with the team coming to the meeting
  • Development of the design and materials for a two-day leadership meeting
  • Graphic facilitation of a two-day meeting in Latvia
  • The development of visuals from the meeting for onward communications to the wider organisation


By the end of the meeting the leadership team had developed:
  • a long-term vision, mission and strategies for the whole organisation
  • a set of common goals across the business
  • an agreed set of values with clarity of meaning and behaviours
  • commitment by leaders to develop plans to align with the overall strategic business direction.
Preparing leaders for change, including mergers and acquisitions, can be challenging. We can help you think it through and move forward. Give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete the contact form telling us about your change and leadership needs.
30May 2016
The following is a case study from our facilitation consultancy with a global, France-based FMCG business focused on transforming the HR organisation with a globally aligned strategy.


A new global HR leader needing to transform the HR organisation from locally-based transactional HR to globally-aligned strategic HR partners.


  • Briefing from the HR Director to clarify her objectives
  • Interviews with the HR team attending the meeting
  • Liaison with external HR consultancy
  • Development of the design and materials for a three-day global HR leadership meeting
  • Graphic facilitation of a three-day meeting in Paris
  • The development of visuals from the meeting for onward communications to the wider HR team and to the wider Exec team.


By the end of the meeting the HR leadership had developed:
  • a long-term vision for HR
  • an agreed purpose
  • strategies to achieve the vision
  • plans for the next year with objectives, actions and allocated resources
  • agreed next steps for onward communications and testing of their work.
If you department or organisation is seeking transformation and an aligned strategy give us a all at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form telling us a little something about your challenges.
23May 2016
The following case study is for a leading FMCG company with a new leader with a new global strategy. We supported him and helped him collaborate with his new team.


The company is a leading global FMCG business. Our clients was new in the role and business segment. The aim was to bring their global team together face-to-face for the first time, to familiarise and engage them in a new global corporate strategy and to collaborate on a plan for the team to support the overall success of the global business.


  • Briefing from the Chief Information Officer and HR Director to clarify meeting objectives
  • Interviews with the global team of eight who were attending the meetings
  • Co-creation of the design and materials for 3.5 day global Business Partner meeting
  • Graphic facilitation of the meeting and development of visuals from the meeting for onward communication
  • Prioritisation of long term stratefy in line with the new global strategy
  • Agreement of relevant and tangible cultural shifts, and assignment of owners to strategies and cultural shifts
  • Timeline for implementation


The meeting agreements and actions are in the first implementation stage. Results will develop between this meeting and the follow-on meetings designed to review progress and make adjustments to the courses of action. If you have new leaders in role and need to support team growth, locally or globally, we can help. Give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form and let us know what your needs are.
18May 2016
The Harvard Business Review has published comprehensive thinking on how organisations can engage around agile working models. Agile, of course, started in IT and tech project management. It is now being explored as a way of working in all levels and departments of an organisation. Agile strategy development is something we are exploring and starting to bring into our client work. We work largely in upper management and C-suite levels. We are excited as this level of management dives into agile thinking and decision making. We see agile as part of being Teal, as in the Frederic Laloux's thinking in Reinventing Organisations. Teal and agile complement each other. Mastering both takes time and commitment. Also, we are using both concepts in our own growth as a company. Exciting times.
16May 2016
The following is a case study for recent work we did for a global cosmetics, haircare and beauty company with the goal of improving collaboration with fewer meetings.


Their employee engagement survey showed that marketing managers were spending too much time in meetings and not getting the creative results they needed. Our task: find ways of improving collaboration with fewer meetings.


We ran a facilitated meeting for the entire marketing team to demonstrate how to run productive, engaging and creative meetings. Next, a diagnostic to uncover the causes of meeting problems, followed by a leadership training programme. We ran leadership workshops for the senior team to redesign their pivotal meetings. We supported the leaders one-to-one in running more productive meetings.


Measured results aren't in yet but early reports suggest that meetings have become more productive as people use our techniques to collaborate more effectively, earlier on in the marketing process, and therefore need fewer meetings. If meeting productivity, and wanting fewer meetings, we can work with you to help you understand your current process and help find new ways of meeting. Give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or, complete our contact form telling us a little about what you want to achieve.
11May 2016
What does collaboration look like? What does it sound like? This video of Ravel's Bolero played on one cello by four musicians from the Vienna Cello Ensemble expresses collaboration. Think about how much trust, shared knowledge and wisdom, ability to adjust to circumstances, clear understanding of roles, shared purpose and roadmap, and so many other dynamics both conscious and unconscious that make this collaboration successful. It is the same basic dynamic in organisational groups and teams. What an inspiration!  
09May 2016
The following is a case study from meetings we designed and facilitated for a global pharmaceutical company with a goal of improving meeting productivity.


The UK and Ireland employee survey results showed a major concern about the number of meetings and the quality of meetings. Our mission was to work with them to improve the productivity of meetings and thereby reduce the number of meetings.


We conducted a diagnostic process with the UK and Ireland business. From this we developed a leadership development programme, redesigned some pivotal meetings, and provided one-to-one support and coaching of meeting leaders.


We trained the top 60 leaders across the organisation. We are awaiting the results of this year's engagement survey. Leadership capabilities, especially high quality meeting skills, are critical in organisations. This case study shows one aspect of how we support leadership. Call us if you want to discuss your leadership needs. +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form telling us a little of what you need.
25April 2016
Self management Image 4-4-16 KWAs 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. (more…)
03April 2016
Sunnie Giles' article in the 15 March 2016 Harvard Business Review nails the competencies that best serve leaderhip, in its many forms. Our thoughts on leadership align with Sunnie's writing. Have a read and give us your thoughts on this important topic.
29March 2016
We know from experience that if you focus on the purpose you will find greater success. This applies when meeting and in organisations and in leadership concerns. This article by Dominic Houlder and Nandu Nandkishore in the Harvard Business Review published 22 March 2016 echoes our thinking. Have a read. Let us know what you think.
17March 2016

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. (more…)
16March 2016
Sometimes thinking is a luxury when your day to day work is full on. When you do get time to think you have to focus on your critical topics. Thinking takes time and focus. You schedule some time and we'll help you think through your issues and topics in a focus, deliberate way. Let's get our PA;s scheduling some time so we can help you out. Call us on +44 (0)1628 471 114 or fill in our contact form and we'll get the conversation started.
15March 2016
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. (more…)
11March 2016
Uncovering the real problem can sometimes be difficult because it is easy to get in our own ways. If you want to talk to us about how to move beyond where you are to uncover the underlying issues give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or tell us what you think is going on in our contact form and we'll help you sort it out.
09March 2016
More and more companies, and teams within organisations, are struggling to communicate well, with leaders challenged to keep their local teams aligned to the overall organisational goals, strategies and agreed actions. (more…)
07March 2016
Agile has achieved wide acceptance within the project management world. We have been thinking about how agile concepts work in vision, strategy and deployment processes. Our question is can meeting facilitation add value as agile co-thinkers with leaders who understand that the world is a constantly changing place. (more…)
26February 2016
Stephen Covey's work and thinking has deep resonance with Meeting Magic. We build on his thinking in understanding the power of meeting. Meeting well is built on trust. Trust glues relationships, meeting process, personal and group action, and organisational change. At Meeting Magic we help individuals build trust within their work process. To learn more about how we can help you build trust among your people, in teams and in decision making and planning, give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or complete our contact form and tell us the issues around trust that you face daily. We're here to support you and your colleagues.
19February 2016
Call us at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete our contact form with details of what you want to discuss.
17February 2016
Liz Forder finds her major influencers in her personal life and her effective meeting facilitation. What she has learned from powerful women influences her professional work, particularly her facilitation of groups through the power of meeting. She carries her own empathy, humility and respect for others into her client communications. And, there is room for Bruce Springsteen, Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela in her own mashup of their life experiences, poetry, storytelling and empowered thinking. Have a watch and listen as Liz tells us about these powerful people and others who continue to shape her thinking. Give Liz Forder a call to share your own passions and what drives you, and maybe sing a Springsteen song together, at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or let Liz know what you are thinking about, or your meeting needs, in the contact form. She'll get back to you as quickly as she can.
15February 2016
Personal growth is what drives Fiona Stratford, even in her client relationships. Internal, personal reflection supports her thinking with clients. Learning from relationships supports her professional interactions. Fiona's goal is to learn from everyone she meets, from line managers in her early professional career to luminaries of thoughful revolution like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. She believe strongly that 'one small step could be the biggest thing you ever do.' Listen and watch Fiona talk about those who have influenced her passion for working with people. To talk to Fiona Stratford about your passions and influencers give her a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114. Or send the contact form and we'll make sure Fiona gets your thoughts on your upcoming meetings or your influencers or how to empower personal growth, even in meetings.
12February 2016
Meeting Magic believes that meeting well has the power to change organisations and, indeed, the world. Start a conversation with us at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete our contact form with some thoughts on your next meeting. It is a place to start. Let's talk.
11February 2016
We are collecting data in our meeting culture survey that will inform our thinking about how meetings help or hinder organisational culture. We will be posting some of the data on this website for others to use. Please take our survey. It takes 15-20 minutes so sit back and relax, grab a cuppa and have a go. Select the 'Get yourself heard' link. And scroll down that same page to have a look at some of our initial data results. (more…)
10February 2016
Becoming a facilitative thinker who understands the power of meeting has been Kenda Gaynham's path through her education, professional life and now her facilitative thinking with clients. Kenda identifies those who continue to influence her thinking and facilitation. She has built her career with beliefs of not limiting people, opening space for creative thinking and breaking through hierarchies. In particular, one of her great influencers has been Margaret Mead whose own belief that small, thoughtful groups can change the world remains a bedrock on which to build client conversations. Listen and watch Kenda enthuse about those who have influenced her, both personal and professional. To speak with Kenda, and explore more of her current thinking about the power of meeting, give her a call at +44 90)6128 471 114. Or, complete the contact form adding some of your own thoughts about your meeting needs.
09February 2016
One of our partners in the United States is offering a foundational graphic facilitation training. Crowley & Co have been training The Grove style of graphic recording and how to integrate those tools into meeting facilitation for many years. Deirdre Crowley has over 15 years experience in graphics for meetings, organisational communications and in the meeting facilitation space. Her training is quite popular and quite inspirational. The training is 2.5 days in the Potomac, Maryland area from April 20-22. You can learn more about the contents and approach to this workshop at the Crowley & Co website. If you are interested in learning more about graphic facilitation and how it can support your meeting energy, group focus, commitment to agreements and the like give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or drop us a note via our contact form and tell us what you want to explore about making your meetings more productive.
08February 2016
Becoming an effective meeting facilitator does not come overnight. It does not come without thoughful reflection about actual client work. And, it does not come without exploring what others think, along with reflection on others' insights. Being an advocate for organisational culture change through meetings comes from years of experience. Katherine Woods range from Peter Senge and David Sibbet in her early days as an internal graphic meeting facilitator to Frederic Laloux in her current thinking about organisational change through meeting culture. Her journey to meeting consultancy has been varied but informative. She demonstrates her passion for culture change through meetings. (more…)