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.
If you’d like to dive deeper, here are a few voices on the subject that we’ve enjoyed:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 this all boils down to, from different angles is..
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.
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…
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 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?
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.
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.
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.’
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…
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’
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
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
‘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…
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.
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.
The physicality and psychology of people arranging themselves in order of their length of service was fascinating!
An awful lot can be achieved involving a lot of people in a very short space of time!
What people said
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
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
By the end of the meeting the board had agreed:
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.
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.
By the end of the meeting the leadership team had developed:
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.
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.
By the end of the meeting the leadership team had developed:
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.
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.
By the end of the meeting the HR leadership had developed:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ›
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.
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.
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 ›
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.
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 ›
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.
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.
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.
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.
Call us at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete our contact form with details of what you want to discuss.
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.
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.
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