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15March 2017
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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.’
07February 2017
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We are in the heart of kick-off season in many organisations and it's got me thinking, “what's the intention of these events, and how could we make more of these valuable opportunities for people to connect face to face?” I believe the intention of kick-off meetings is to get people aligned on a common direction in the actions they take for the year. Most kick-offs comprise a blend of leadership presenting the goals and plans for the year, presentations on any significant market changes, product presentations, team building, personal planning, and often, some social time. They are usually delivered through a presentation-plus-Q&A style of working so that most of the preparation is focused on the content development.

As described above, I believe the intention of a kick-off is sound - the desire to get everyone in good shape for the year ahead is a worthwhile cause. However, there is a belief inherent in the way most kick-offs are run, which I think is flawed!

BELIEF: IF WE TELL PEOPLE THE GOALS AND PLANS THEY WILL ALIGN THEIR ACTION TOWARDS THIS

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.

BELIEF: IF WE ATTEND TO OUR ORGANISATIONAL HEALTH, THEN OUR ORGANISATIONAL PERFORMANCE WILL IMPROVE.

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
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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!
19August 2016
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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.

16July 2016
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Introduction

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
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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?
03September 2015
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A good place to start learning high quality meeting facilitation or to add to your skill sets is the Meeting Magic book. Here is a sneak peek at our new video describing the book and what it offers you. You can purchase the book direct from our webpage. If you would like to discuss the contents of the book and how Meeting Magic can support your facilitation skills development give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete the contact form and tell us what you are wanting to talk about. We love training and coaching about meeting facilitation, facilitation for leaders, team development and taking vision to action.
01July 2015
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We like this quote because it supports our thinking on how to approach meetings with openness to ideas. Holding our own ideas loosely so we are ready to change when we learn from others.
19June 2015
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C1 pg2a impact I t is my view that HOW things get done has as much impact on bottom line performance as WHAT gets done in business. Most organisations have unhelpful patterns of behaviour that recur in the way people work together (in meetings). These disfunctionalities lead to slow and poor quality decision making. By looking at meeting culture organisations can identify what's getting in the way of performance and drive more effective ways of working. This is not just academic! This approach is practical and it doesn't add work into your business, it utilises  the spaces that exist in business to drive change.
02February 2015
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I f you think about the times in your life when something profoundly changed your view, I'll bet is was an experience that lead to your changing your mind. It is this philosophy that underpins our approach to the deployment of business direction and strategy. We create an experience that enables people to hear, see and feel the changes they need to be making. This is far more memorable, and likely to change individual behaviours, than the type of annual Kick Off meeting that's prevalent in businesses today. Traditional Kick Off meetings are usually a series of presentations. At best they allow for a bit of Question and Answers. This might mean people KNOW the strategy, but its unlikely to lead them into DOING anything.  
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