Learning to function or learning to evolve?

Work in the world of Covid19… all change?! Not yet.

As we stop, pause and reflect on what we are noticing in the world right now, we’re struck by how little has changed fundamentally in working practices, even though SO much has changed contextually. People are apparently just behaving in much the same way as before, but online. We’ve been a bit bemused by this and it got us thinking about the change curve ….

This familiar model is a lens through which we can appreciate that different people are in different places at the moment, and therefore groups and organisations are in different places too. This means that there are multiple realities around us reflecting the impact of Covid19. As we see it, at the moment we are on the first loop of a transitional journey into a new post-CV19 reality.

Right now everyone is fixating on the use of technology to take their work and their lives online. This phase of learning is about functioning. That is: learning to function online because, at the moment, most people are primarily focused on doing what they have always done, virtually. It’s understandable. In this phase, we’re seeing very little challenge to the working practices being adopted and think the cracks are going to start showing as the dysfunction in our existing ways of working start to appear, and are even amplified in the virtual space.

We are already speaking to people who are feeling really weary of poor online meeting practices. The lack of intentionality, design and connection to human dynamics that exist in many of our face-to-face meetings are truly revealing themselves in the online space. Sitting in back-to-back meetings all day is already exhausting and frustrating people. More so than ever. Imagine the long term cumulative impact of poor attention to relationships, conflict-avoidance and ineffective decision-making added to all this.

We cannot rock up to an online meeting with no intentionality, design or connection to people and expect to get good work done!

The bigger challenge at stake here is the ability of people to move beyond the technology and fundamentally challenge their mental models about how we work. Underpinning our organisations and society right now are millions of unconscious mental models that drive how we work together. For us to survive and even thrive in our new world, we need to start doing the tough work of learning about, challenging and developing our mental models.

The ability of people to work collectively in ambiguity and complexity will depend on their ability to look at their mental models and shift them and, where organisations are willing to encourage and support this, these will be the organisations that evolve and thrive.

Of course, the challenge with unconscious mental models is that they are unconscious, so just talking about our ways of leading, working or being doesn’t help us make this shift. The way we uncover unconscious mental models is by paying attention to patterns of behaviour. And then getting curious about why those behaviours are showing up. We talk about people behaving ‘as if’. For example, people right now are behaving as if:

  • The most important work to be done in meetings is task-focused, operational work
  • When times are tough we need to stop learning and developing people
  • The way to deal with uncertainty is to predict and control, more than ever
  • We can predict and plan for the future
  • Leaders need to have the answers

Meetings are powerful places where patterns of behaviour in groups can be seen if you have the skills and take the time to notice human processes. This awareness is the first stage of learning to evolve. By making space for developmental work in meetings, we can reveal and diagnose mental models, decide whether they are helping or hindering our progress, and then adjust our behaviours accordingly.

What we’re suggesting here is that the most powerful development work doesn’t need to happen in week-long leadership development programmes. In fact, we would argue that week-long and even day-long sessions are not productive right now. The most powerful development happens when we pay attention to how we actually work and our everyday meetings are a great place to do this.

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think this quality of learning is currently happening in most everyday meetings. What we are saying is that it could. We believe that it’s not only possible but that it’s important and, having experienced the transformative power in this approach, we truly believe that changing how you meet can change the world!

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash