THE BIG PICTURE
Breathing Life into Our Organizations
by Susan Kelly
Amazingly, as I think back over the years, in many respects, the way people work together in organizations and corporations has not changed much. I think we have many old ways embedded in our organizational working norms and structures, and people find ways to work around them, and often this means working around others.
It’s almost like our political systems and financial and learning institutions these days. They don’t exactly work for this new world in the digital age, but we keep doing things the same
way anyway and keep complaining about what we are not succeeding at.
It’s my belief that we need to put the human spirit/the community spirit back into business. And, you can add in informality, color, movement and fun, as well. It seems that so many of our organizations today are fixated on the financial bottom line to the exclusion of all else. People are seen as the means to this end, while the experiential, as well as the environmental bottom lines, are given little attention.
A colleague and friend of mine taught me that the word business in Swedish translates to “nourishment for life”. The English word business easily translates to “busyness”. We seem to be busy for the sake of being busy. When we slow down and truly translate our businesses into nourishment for life, we will reap huge rewards, and we will do it in ways that are satisfying and enriching for all.
This calls for changes in the way we do things in our organizations. It requires letting go of old ways of thinking and doing that no longer serve us in our world today. It requires New Mindsets, New Metaphors and New Maps.
So many of us have attached a stigma to certain things that people feel “don’t belong in the work place” or are too “touchy-feely” for business, but often, these things are exactly the things that will get us what we want, if we will only let go of obsolete ideas and open up to new ones.
Who would think that the way to innovation is through humor and informality?
Who would think that the amount of money we make is directly proportionate to the fun we have making it?
Who would have thought that the arts and metaphor could unlock hidden resources that can pay off handsomely?
Who would think that listening and good communications are the keys to having a successful, thriving organization?
Who would have thought that 15 minutes of playing music together would equal months of traditional team building?
Who would figure that knowing each other better would enhance our collaborative experiences by quantum leaps?
Who would have thought that by just changing our language and our metaphors, we could open worlds we never thought possible?
Who would have thought that just paying attention to a few things with passionate intent and commitment of energy and time, would bring us nearly everything we could hope for?
Most of the focus in this book is on the human side of business in areas such as:
Making decisions/resolving conflict/solving problems; or
Strategic thinking/system viewing/mapping
The following graphic illustrates a perspective that has emerged for me over the years and also describes what I mean by the human side of business.
As I see it, fundamentally, there are 2 aspects to organizations,
in terms of how business gets done, both of which are needed: Business Processes, which are how work is framed or focused and People Processes, which are how business is transacted or transformed.
(As you can see, People Processes include Decision Making, Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution and Communications/ Conversations. Business Processes include things that align with the creation and flow of products and services, i.e., Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, Distribution, etc.)
The next few pages paint a somewhat bleak, but often accurate, picture of current reality in organizations and companies as I’ve witnessed it over time.
AN ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE MOST PEOPLE WOULD WANT TO BE PART OF
To offer one view of an ideal work world as a comparison to what I’m about to say, the following graphic depicts an organizational culture I think most people would want to be part of.
There is a collective spirit. There is a sense of ownership and pride. People want to be there. They want to be engaged. Creativity and innovation abound. People are rewarded for
It’s often in stark contrast to what we actually get, however. This is because what we want and how we currently think and act, very often, are contradictory.
For some who have made progress closing the gap between a desired state and current reality, or are happy in their working environment, the pages of this section will be an exaggeration; but, for many others, it is spot on and describes their everyday work world to a tee.
CURRENT METAPHOR AND MINDSET
The current metaphor on the left of this graphic portrays
the corporation or organization as A Well Oiled Machine, a metaphor for thinking and acting that has been around for quite a while, but is nevertheless, still very much alive and well in our work world today. In this culture, humans are seen as parts in the machine.
Leaders in this model see themselves as experts, while the employees are seen as the implementers. In this hierarchical world, the foremost directive is: “No matter what, please the stockholders first.”
2 ASPECTS OF ORGANIZATIONS – THE UNHEALTHY VIEW
This graphic uses the 2 fundamental aspects of organizations I mentioned earlier, but this is the unhealthy view, where business seems to be operating these days. It reflects the perceived relative value of the aspects as shown by the size of the circles. It also emphasizes the kind of hard, driving language that is being modeled in our organizations and corporations today.
THE BLACK HOLE OF
This is how decision-making appears to everyone except the current small group of decision-makers. A small team of leaders or managers collects separate inputs. People throw their ideas into a black hole, often without having been given a context or big picture for thinking about what would actually make sense to contribute. Then, the small team comes up with the answer(s), (using or not using the employee’s ideas – who knows?!). The team builds a structure(s) to support and accommodate its answer(s). The team imposes the solution(s) on the entire organization and people are expected to survive the consequences.
People frequently bemoan the fact that they have to go to yet another dreary or trying meeting. The other day, I actually heard a CEO say he wanted to have 30 minute stand up meetings
with no sustenance allowed. That way, everyone would be so uncomfortable that business would get done more quickly
and then they could all leave and really get something done.
He laughed and said he was only kidding. . .but I’m not so sure
If so many people feel this way about the dreaded meeting, why do we keep doing things the same way? You’ve probably heard this definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Why don’t we change the way we do meetings?
The following graphic depicts a typical meeting room that reflects an all-too-common thoughtless approach to getting together. Not all meetings are this way, but I have seen too many that are.
Every meeting doesn’t have to be a major production. But there
is a reason why people complain about meetings. If they were enjoyable and productive, people would look forward to getting together.
Later, I talk more about meetings and how I think we can improve the meeting itself and the results we get from coming together.
WHAT YOU ACTUALLY GET
The current thinking of today, as described, results in a huge waste of time, money, effort and talent. In addition, current practices of leaders and managers often have the effect of making people feel disrespected, underutilized, and dehumanized, which naturally leads to an unhealthy culture
full of disgruntled employees.
When our processes are not engaging people and our ideas are not given form, we end up using a fraction of our available brain power and talent resources, and our fruitful collaboration and easy communication are virtually non-existent.
WHERE WE’RE MISSING THE BOAT
Even if this current reality is only partially true in your working world, it is easy to see that there is still quite a gap between where we are now and what’s possible (assuming you agree with the desired culture that I outlined earlier).
The following graphic illustrates what I think are questions we need to ask ourselves in order to move to a more desirable future state where all stakeholders are enriched.
Where and how does work really get done?
How does an organization really “move the needle” or sustain itself over time?
How can we better appreciate all of our assets and resources?
How can we value taking time to reflect together?
How can we value and support systemic, strategic, collective thinking?
How can we balance the 3 bottom lines of business so that all stakeholders are enriched?
How can we transition from OLD ways (that aren’t working) to NEW ways (that will work better in today’s world)?
The Whole Person:
How do we engage people?
How can we respect people more than we do?
How do we earn someone’s trust?
How do people get “fired up and ready to go”?
The Whole Brain:
How do people naturally learn?
How does the human brain take in, retain and give information?
How do people do their best thinking?
How do people make meaning of ideas and information?
How are people’s imaginations and creativity stimulated?
The Whole Group:
How can we create conditions for shared learning, collective thinking and inspired collaboration?
How do we best support connection and good conversation?
How can we release our inherent potential for “breakthrough” and “magic”?
How can we identify and pool our talents in support of common endeavors?
Although both these metaphors of the Well Oiled Machine and the Dynamic Community have been around a long time, I
hope, with this comparison of the two, to convince you that a community model would better suit today’s reality. I think the Well Oiled Machine can no longer keep up, and the Dynamic Community is as fresh as ever.
I imagine that most companies are a combination of both a machine and a community. The hierarchy is still predominant and focused on financial control and governance, while people realize the need for connection and inclusion within and
A new metaphor won’t magically change everything, but it is a mindset that can define the culture. What you pay attention to and where you apply your resources, because of the lens you are looking through, is the important thing.
We create language based on how we see ourselves. When you shift the language people use, you shift the conversation, and you shift the organization. Language shapes reality. To quote Peter Block, “All transformation is linguistic.”
The following comparison is presented first as a snap shot of the two metaphors, side by side. Following that is a more detailed analysis based on this framework:
A NEW METAPHOR
I want to bring back the metaphor I talked about earlier, The Well Oiled Machine. In our world today, there are still a lot of people who approach organizational life using the machine model.
I think this world today calls for another metaphor, so I am presenting an alternative model, The Dynamic Community. In general, the idea is to move from static to dynamic, breathing life into our organizations by creating a fundamental shift in mindset.
From Webster’s Dictionary:
Static = Resistance to flow of energy; force from weight alone (not motion); little change; characterized by lack of movement.
Dynamic = Form in relation to motion and sometimes the equilibrium of bodies; forces and their interplay.
THE WELL-OILED MACHINE
OVERALL: The corporation is well-oiled machine. . .
STRUCTURE: Shaped like a pyramid of individual boxes. . .
PEOPLE: Manned by an army of hired hands. . .
LEADERSHIP: Under the command of a Chief Executive Officer. . .
STRATEGY: With managers who execute aggressive, reactive attacks on competition to increase market share. . .
PAY OFF: In the service of maximum quarterly financial returns for stockholders of the corporation.
THE DYNAMIC COMMUNITY
The corporation is a a dynamic community. . .
Linked by quality processes, systems and structures that enable. . .
Diverse networks of interdependent teams to be. . .
Guided by common purposes and shared leadership. . .
With leaders committed to an ever-evolving strategy, environmental scanning and applied learning. . .
In the service of optimum long-term customer, employee and stockholder enrichment, and the health of the larger society.
THE ORGANIZATION AS A WELL
OILED MACHINE OVERALL
Cold, ponderous, isolated
The well oiled machine is just that - a machine. It is a static collection of parts that performs together, like a car. Each part has its function, which is discreet and isolated from other functions, and all are driven by control at the top (the driver).
STRUCTURE: The well oiled machine is characterized by its resistance to change; in fact, change is the antithesis of this metaphor, where mechanical stability and precision are more highly valued.
PEOPLE: People working in the organization are more or less viewed as, and maintained as, the functioning parts in the machine. A person’s role and authority in the organization depend on where they reside in the hierarchy.
LEADERSHIP: In this traditional hierarchal structure, there is a command and control approach to leadership that also requires a minimum of change.
STRATEGY: The strategy, with the leader at the wheel with map in hand, and the employees implementing the directions of the leader, is to drive toward the single goal of achieving the organization’s annual or quarterly plan. The rallying cry from leadership is “go for as much as you can possibly get” and “do it as quickly and cheaply as you possibly can”.
PAY OFF: The desired pay off of this model is primarily to gain maximum financial returns.
THE ORGANIZATION AS A DYNAMIC COMMUNITY OVERALL
Moving, inclusive, focused on the commons
Unlike a machine, a healthy community, by definition, is vital and dynamic. Community is a universal metaphor. Everyone has been involved in a community or group of some sort for most of their lives and they know that it requires people to work together for the common good in order for it to stay healthy. In a community, people usually have a sense that they are part of something larger than self and that what they contribute to the whole will benefit them, in turn.
STRUCTURE: Since the structure is set up to link networks of interdependent teams within and across functions and units, the employees are quickly able to sense the whole system they are working in. This has huge benefit when it comes to a person’s perspective and contribution, as it simultaneously enhances overall communication and collaboration.
PEOPLE: People are seen as the organization’s most important assets and supporting the relationships among people is seen as one of the most important activities of the organization. The whole person is considered and appreciated (acknowledged and invested in). There are opportunities for all to participate because each person is seen as a potential contributor and is not disregarded.
LEADERSHIP: As a leader, living the community model means trusting the wisdom of the people, especially those closest to the work. It means believing that leaders can come from anywhere. Groups are forming and reconfiguring based on need/situation and fit. Roles (not job descriptions) change, too. This may be humbling for some current leaders, but this model yields much higher dividends in the long run.
STRATEGY: Just as the image of healthy community is vital and dynamic, the strategy of the enterprise is constantly moving. There is continuous learning and development and feedback and tacking through the ‘waters of ambiguity’ that reflect our world today. We understand that when our structures and processes and systems are in place and working well, we will be able to go with the currents and eddies and flow of what’s emerging.
PAY OFF: The desired pay off is that all stakeholders are enriched, from the individual to the world at large.
THE STRUCTURE of the MACHINE
SHAPED LIKE A PYRAMID OF INDIVIDUAL BOXES
Hierarchical, boxed in, myopic
In the image of the machine, there is a place for you and you should know your place. Your place is dictated by where you reside in the hierarchy and what function you are performing for whom. You are seen as an interchangeable or replaceable part of the machine, filling a slot in this structure of boxes.
In this environment, you probably have contact with other boxes, but it’s done most often virtually, so essentially, you are isolated in your cube or office, looking into another box, your computer. Because of this, you are frequently unaware of the bigger system you are part of and contributing to.
If you are not aware of the bigger system you are working in, your influence will be minimal and the value of your work and its potential to positively impact the system will go unrecognized.
In addition, in this environment, you will probably not experience or see the need for working cross-functionally, especially if processes and systems and spaces are not set up for spontaneous/emergent or collaborative work, or, if working outside your box is not part of the DNA of the culture.
Some who favor the machine model argue that as long as you have your job description and your laminated cube spelling out the organization’s mission and values for your reference, you should have what you need to do your duty.
In this model, most of the interaction, feedback and control happen by, or in relation to, leadership or management. In the mind of the leader of the machine, there is little need to give you opportunities to contribute or participate beyond what you were hired for, lest you be distracted from your performance.
THE STRUCTURE of the COMMUNITY
LINKED BY FUNCTIONAL AND CROSS-FUNCTIONAL PROCESSES, SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES
Collaborative, structured for emergence, innovative and action oriented
In a hierarchical chart, which will probably be around for a while longer, every position in the company cascades down from the top. This vertical layout represents the formal financial and governing controls. In reality, though, most of the work gets done through the informal, horizontal tracks, across units through relationships and connections.
The machine model is structured to consistently provide mechanical stability and precision to the operation of the organization, its primary aim; whereas, the community model, in addition, is structured for emergence, innovation and action that, when operating in a healthy way, allows any part of the organization to turn on a dime.
In the dynamic community, decision-making spreads out. This alone can provide a great deal more fluidity across the company, opening bottlenecks in the system created by central decision-making. As agreed-to objectives are defined and new ideas and concepts emerge, teams are configured and reconfigured to put ideas into action.
Since structure determines behavior, this way of working has to be supported with processes and systems and spaces that everyone knows about and that work. A quality, purposeful infrastructure allows flexibility, creativity and efficient, productive interaction. It’s akin to performing in a symphony or jazz ensemble. When you lay down the chords as a structure for
the song, you can then let the professional musicians riff
One key system worth singling out is that of consistent communications and keeping people connected. In most organizations, there are formal and informal lines of communication. The most prolific and natural ones are the informal ones among people at the proverbial “water cooler”
or among those who give and get information through the “grapevine”. The community model naturally takes advantage of these ready-made communication channels in addition to the formal ones.
THE PEOPLE of the MACHINE
MANNED BY AN ARMY OF HIRED HANDS
Getting marching orders, working for the machine
The phrase “an army of hired hands” calls up the image of someone barking commands while the troops get their marching orders. This may be fine for some and not for others.
If you’re one of those people who just want to be told what to do, put your time in, collect your paycheck and then go home, this is the place for you. But if you are one of those people who want to participate and learn and collaborate and feel part of a community at work, this is not your place.
In the machine model, you are seen as a part of the whole with a discreet function, and that is comforting for some. When you are hired, the focus is mostly on your skill set or your performance history. In the mind of the hiring leader in the machine model, “what else do you need to know about someone”?
Of course, if you are being hired for a position of management, the organization will want to know how you handle people, how you will be as a “boss”. The scope of your role and authority often depends on where you’ve gotten to on the corporate ladder. Regardless, if you don’t work out, you’ll simply be replaced.
THE PEOPLE of the COMMUNITY
MANNED BY DIVERSE NETWORKS OF INTERDEPENDENT TEAMS
Everyone is a potential contributor, diversity, respect, inclusion, focused on the commons
In the community model, people are the organization’s most valuable resources. Every person is seen as a potential contributor, so no one is disregarded. In fact, two important values are integral to the community model with regard to people:
First, there is inclusion in every sense. The organization finds ways for you to get your voice and talents in, so you can contribute and participate and get involved with others. Providing opportunities for collaboration is a priority of the company because that’s exactly how the best work gets done.
Second, there is respect for diversity in its broadest sense. Every single person is different from any other person in the world; we each have our story of our life experience and gained perspectives, so in the community model, you are seen as a Whole Person with unique contributions.
The healthy community finds ways to learn about and appreciate the strengths, gifts, talents and passions that you are willing to share to benefit the whole.
Once people get to know each other better, connections deepen, assumptions are held to a minimum and listening and communication can flow more easily. This is how you build a climate of trust which is the foundation needed for any worthwhile teamwork.
LEADERSHIP in the MACHINE
UNDER THE COMMAND OF A CEO
The image that comes to mind is the traditional pyramid showing the leader at the top. This is a typical command and control structure that works well in some sectors and not well in others.
You can imagine that if a leader is looking out for the enterprise and his guiding metaphor is a machine, his prime objective would always be to make sure the parts are well-oiled and otherwise maintained so the machine could go on functioning at its best.
Any variance is disruptive, so to assure a minimum of chaos and a maximum of control, the leader sets the tone, provides the vision and then sends the workers off to execute the top team’s plan.
It is clear in this metaphor that the leaders have the final word and are the experts, while the employees are seen as the implementers. The leader in a machine model gets business done through control, discipline, rules and regulations.
LEADERSHIP in the COMMUNITY
GUIDED BY COMMON PURPOSE(S) AND SHARED LEADERSHIP
Living by healthy community principles, leaders come from anywhere
As mentioned earlier, in the machine model, leadership is defined by where you sit in the hierarchical structure. Furthermore, in that world, the fount of knowledge and wisdom is thought to be contained within those leadership boxes, whether the person sitting in the box is competent or not.
In the community model, however, leaders can and do come from anywhere in the organization and they are often the people who are closest to the work, no matter where they “reside” in the hierarchy. In this case, leadership is shared.
You may be a leader for a small meeting or a project over time or all the time. It depends on the situation and the fit. The point is that leadership is not limited to a few in the organization.
While the financial and governing leadership of the organization will necessarily have to give final approval when it comes to allocation of funds or governance, being a top leader in the community model means trusting the wisdom of the people. It means being able to share leadership, knowing you are not giving anything up.
As mentioned earlier, the community model is designed for emergence, innovation and action. Emergence means constant change and this is scary for some leaders. To them it means lack of control. Allowing people to work in emergent and facilitated ways requires letting go of some old fears.
Innovation shows up when you provide conditions for inspired collaboration and then get out of the way (or, even better, participate with people on an even playing field). When people have opportunities to be creative together, they usually are. Creating a climate of safety in which it is ok to express yourself without recrimination is one of the keys to drawing out these ideas. In the community model, leaders nurture and cultivate the relational field and provide hospitable places to collaborate.
THE STRATEGY of the MACHINE
MANAGERS WHO EXECUTE AGGRESSIVE, REACTIVE ATTACKS
ON THE COMPETITION TO INCREASE MARKET SHARE
Missed opportunities, stress and burnout,
no pausing to learn and reflect
This is tough stuff. Look at the words: execute, aggressive, attack. As mentioned earlier, language creates (and is code for) reality, so, in this scenario, it is logical that you would have the kind of behavior that matches the language. This creates a very competitive environment.
Expanding market share is not a bad goal, but aggressive attack suggests a person driving toward his goal with tunnel vision and a single-minded urgency.
The speed at which you are expected to achieve results these days reinforces this image. You have little choice but to run head on, full out, in order just to meet the standards your bigger bosses have set for you. In the process, you miss so many other opportunities and synergies that you would see if you had a little more peripheral vision and took a little time to notice them.
Technology has enabled us in so many ways but we have also made ourselves slaves of it. Just as expanding market share is not a bad goal, technology is not a bad tool. It’s how people behave in relation to these things that matters.
Driving forward in a linear trajectory without considering the constant morphing and changing world or without pause for reflection, does not tell you how to innovate or learn from “mistakes”. And how do you know what new capabilities and capacities need to be developed or if you’re allocating your money in ways that are helping you or hurting you?
A much better mantra would be “go slow to go fast”. As comedian, Lily Tomlin said, “If you want fast acting relief, try slowing down.”
THE STRATEGY of the COMMUNITY
LEADERS COMMITTED TO A EVER-EVOLVING STRATEGY USING ENVIRONMENTAL SCANNING AND APPLIED LEARNING
Always becoming and improving, adaptable, proactive, aware
In the community model, the language is code for an enabling environment. If you are always in the process of developing, always scanning your surroundings and learning every day, you are always in a state of becoming and improving. It’s not aggressive attack, but rather, a conscious way of being in sync with life and reality.
In today’s fast paced world, no vision or goal or strategic plan should ever stay static. In a dynamic market, a singular strategy no longer works. There needs be constant tweaking and adjustment if you are really proactively responding to the environment.
The community model promotes a culture of awareness and learning that is valued throughout the organization. The mantra is: “Keep asking questions”. If you think you have all the answers, you tend to stop learning and this spells disaster.
This means also placing high value on slowing down often to take the time to reflect on where you are. Get your bearings in relationship to those around you by monitoring environmental patterns and trends.
Community leaders and managers facilitate collective/ collaborative strategic planning to find the best ideas and demonstrate inclusion. They provide good processes and hospitable spaces in which to have conversation and dialogue, analysis and planning and mapping.
A goal of a healthy community is to allocate resources wisely so that you have what you need when you need it in terms of people and the capability to act, whatever the environment.
THE PAY-OFF of the MACHINE
IN THE SERVICE OF MAXIMUM QUARTERLY FINANCIAL
RETURNS TO STOCKHOLDERS OF THE CORPORATION
Stockholders are always first, maximum ends up to be disastrous
When the stockholder is seen as the beneficiary that is always first in line, it’s hard to get people engaged, unless the employee is a stockholder. Who wants to invest their time and effort and then be undervalued and second or more in line for the rewards of their efforts?
Of course, everyone is interested in getting financial returns, but when the bulk of it is going to the elite group with orders coming back to work harder to get more and more (often with fewer resources), something eventually will have to give.
Thinking in terms of the language we use to reinforce this particular mindset, take the oft-used word “maximum”:
I gained a lot of wisdom from the book, “The Way Life Works”
by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson, Times Books, Random House, c. 1995. One of their chapters is about the 16 principles of life (what it is that unites us as living beings) and here is what they say about Maximize vs. Optimize (optimize being the way all life actually works best):
Maximize = Pushing any value to its extreme tends to reduce flexibility in the overall system so that it might not be able to adapt to adverse environmental change. Maximum is a form of addiction. Humans exhibit addictive tendencies when trying to maximize such values as wealth, pleasure, security and power.
Optimize = Achieve just the right amount – a value in the middle range between too much and too little. Optimize is an intricate dance involving many interacting parts and values.
My take away is: If we can accept this cue from nature, we
can see that the addiction of maximum will eventually ruin an organization (or person) and, conversely, by believing that optimum is enough, we actually end up getting more.
THE PAY-OFF of the COMMUNITY
IN THE SERVICE OF OPTIMUM LONG-TERM CUSTOMER SATISFACTION, EMPLOYEE AND STOCKHOLDER ENRICHMENT AND THE HEALTH OF THE LARGER SOCIETY
Enrichment for all, we succeed together, in service to the whole
The community model recognizes that if you don’t satisfy your customers and your employees feel disrespected and you don’t give a fig about the rest of the world as long as you’re getting yours, you are on a run away train, going the wrong way.
The language in the community scenario is all about enrichment for everyone, not just a few.
When you operate as a community, in harmony, you realize that for you to succeed, everyone has to succeed, so you become more accountable for the community’s success. You have to help make it work if you want to survive or thrive, and it feels good
When people feel part of a larger whole and they know they belong and where they fit in and how they can contribute and how they will benefit, usually people will engage and give it their all, especially if their values are aligned with the organization’s values.
The odds of sustaining and thriving in the long-term jump ahead by quantum leaps when you live the community model. Things come back 10 fold when you are in service to the whole, and this includes the whole outside the organization.
If we actually shift our lens to see our organization as a Dynamic Community rather than a Well Oiled Machine. . .
What would be different?
What would remain the same?
What would we start paying attention to?
What would we stop paying attention to?
How would we see ourselves differently?
How would we behave differently?
How would we allocate our resources differently?
How would our infrastructure be different?
How would we work together differently?
People Intelligence is about honoring the whole person. It’s being aware of people and how they interact and contribute. It’s appreciating what they need and what they can, and do, bring to the whole. It’s about investing in a person’s growth beyond traditional human resources. It’s listening for, and often resourcing, the good ideas that can come from anyone.
ENGAGING THE WHOLE PERSON
For me, the first step in creating a satisfying, healthy and productive work environment, and culture, is to find opportunities to engage the Whole Person. Everything flows
I would describe what I mean by Whole Person like this:
In the world of business today, you are expected to be one kind of person at work and another kind of person in private life. You clearly get the message from both sides that you should not bring your “personal life” to work and you should not take your “work life” home. The reality, though, is that you carry around your whole life in tact within you no matter where you go. But you are forced in today’s companies to compartmentalize yourself and only use the “appropriate” parts.
In addition, you have your personal version of the four aspects of being human – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – but you are supposed to use only the physical and mental and forget the emotional and spiritual while at work.
On top of this, you have a whole brain composed of parts that all work together. You (and society) label the parts and develop some of them and ignore others. You end up using a tiny fraction of your mind and your potential.
And you have a whole heart with all its passions, and it rarely gets a voice.
Here is another layer: Basic human needs, such as comfort and predictability; connection and community; variety and surprise; growth and improvement; individuality and uniqueness; contribution and legacy.
Whether or not these things get met, they still exist in all of us. They are part of our being human.
And then there is the layer of individual preferences and perspectives. Things like personal interests; unique talents and gifts; unique views; preferred learning mode sequences; emotional intelligence, to name a few.
Last but not least is our entire collection of life experiences.
All these things together equal the Whole Person.
This does not mean that you need to find out everything you can about all the people in the company, but it does suggest that there is much more than meets the eye in every person.
BUILDING A CLIMATE
While others may make an effort to learn more about you, it is up to you what you share of yourself. No one can engage you until you are ready to be engaged. It’s a very private matter. Only you know when you feel comfortable and respected enough to put yourself out there. It is a lot easier to do it when (a) it is asked for, and (b) when you can do it without any recriminations.
A climate of trust has to be built. There is nothing automatic about it. Building trust is an iterative process that gets reinforced over time.
A culture of trust serves as a foundation
for enhancing working relationships and communications and creating conditions for efficient, effective, productive and satisfying collaboration.
It begins with appreciating the Whole Person.
As shown in the this graphic, appreciating the Whole Person means asking and listening. This demonstrates respect for your expressions, which generally increases your participation. When you participate, you listen more deeply
to others, which builds trust. Trust facilitates inspired collaboration and is a catalyst for collective innovation and action, which ends
up appreciating the Whole Group.
When you as an individual are respected and appreciated for who you are and what you bring, or can bring, to the whole, you are more apt to get truly engaged.
The key words here are Appreciate,
Respect and Listening. These concepts are fundamental to building trust.
In the world of Graphic Facilitation, where I come from, the key skill is Listening. Every visual practitioner I know is a master listener. At the same time, almost everyone I ever talk to says that, across the board, listening and good communications are deficient in today’s business world.
So, it was natural for me to reach out to a number of my colleagues, exemplars of active, deep listening, to ask these
What is listening to you?
What does it mean to be, or what are the requirements to be, a good listener?
Why is it (so) hard to listen well or at all?
What are the consequences of not listening to others?
I combined and organized their answers into the following summary:
What is listening?
The basis for respect, communications and building trust
How you transform your relationships
One of the greatest gifts you can give someone
A rare, but much needed, commodity in our world today
A leadership competency/capability
A way to learn others’ perspectives
Accepting another’s reality as valid
What does it mean to be, or what is required to be, a good listener?
A conscious decision to ignore distractions, including your own thoughts and ego needs
Not being preoccupied with what you are going to say
Being focused and fully present
Suspending assumptions and judgments
Keeping silent during listening
Finding a way to care
Not having all the answers
Why is it (so) hard to listen?
(These answers seem to cluster into four categories):
If you have an expert mindset or think you have all the answers, your mind is usually closed to “other” information.
If you have a powerful need to control others or the situation, it will be threatening for you to give power of voice to others.
If you are easily distracted or find it hard to concentrate,
or you are multi-tasking while someone is speaking to you, no matter what some think, you won’t be able to listen.
If it is hard to quiet your own mind and ego needs, particularly if you are formulating your response or are speaking next, you are not going to be able to pay attention to the speaker.
If you feel that deep listening tends to make you feel vulnerable or exposed, you are going to have a hard time being open.
If you believe listening and respectful conversation are too “soft” or “touchy-feely” for business, you are going to steer clear of them.
If you have a hard time finding a way to care about what someone is saying, you are really going to struggle to listen.
I have heard it said that if listening is hard, try opening your heart and mind a little more.
What are the consequences of not listening
In a very practical sense, there are significant ramifications of not listening:
This illustration summarizes the consequences of not listening to others. The basic model comes from old notes of mine that
I took during a presentation by AMA Associates, year unknown.
I amended it somewhat to make my points. It shows what typically happens in the absence of listening, especially in a climate already lacking in trust.
The first thing that breaks down is the communication between individuals; misunderstanding ensues and lack of trust is reinforced. This results in social separation. Social separation sends off another negative loop that creates a culture of redundancy, competition and fear. This redundancy of work spins out into another negative cycle that puts the cost/benefit ratio completely out of whack and stirs up further competition, fear and separation.
I think if people truly listened to each other and really paid attention to communicating well, like it really mattered, we could make a lot more money with a lot less effort and a lot less stress and a lot more joy.
A helpful first thought might be to always ask: Who needs to know what to keep the flow going? Anticipate. Put yourself in the shoes of the others. Look around. Understand the system. Get out of the box once in a while. See the big picture.
CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
I think a lot of leaders and managers love when employees
are creative and innovative. It’s a huge part of working in an organization in today’s world. According to Innovation guru, Rowan Gibson (and others), we are in the Innovation Era. I heard Rowan speak a while ago at a conference and he made two
“If you think you’re good, you’re dead.”
“To not innovate is to die.”
That’s plainly put.
He goes on to say that top line growth comes from innovation. In fact, he says that the ONLY way a company can survive in the future is to be innovative.
He says that you have to reinvent yourself every day and that everyone in the company needs to be responsible for innovation. It needs to be a kind of DNA in the culture.
I say, if we are slow to innovate, it is because we are slow to see the value of deliberately creating conditions for creative thinking.
Those conditions include:
A process to go through,
that is facilitated and
uses creativity tools or activities,
in a space that fosters creative thinking,
with dedicated time to do it.
When people have the opportunity to be creative together, they usually are, especially when these conditions are offered. Creativity is just waiting to be unlocked.
The object here is to be Creative so we can be Innovative.
I learned a simple and helpful distinction between creativity
Creativity = combining elements in new and unique ways.
Innovation = combining elements in new and unique ways that people find useful.
As I understand it, what it takes to get to innovation is a combination of elements, including: the human/brain; informality; humor/play; creativity; and insight.
It sort of works in that order. In other words:
Brain/Person + Informality + Humor = Creativity + Insight = (Humor)= Innovation
Humor actually comes in, in a couple of places. It’s an ingredient in discovering innovative approaches and it is also a result of finding insight, which leads to innovation. Humor shows up immediately upon discovering new ideas. According to Edward de Bono, a leading authority on creativity, “The reaction to insight is often laughter even when there is nothing funny about the solution itself.”
Here are definitions from the dictionary for innovation and
Informality = Relaxed, friendly or unofficial style or nature; absence of formality; ease, organic
Humor = The quality of being amusing or comic; the ability to make other people laugh
Creativity = The use of imagination or original ideas; Einstein said: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Insight = The capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing
Innovation = Making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products; introduce
I want to quote Creativity guru, Kaylie Dugan, who has a delightful way of describing brain function in relation to creativity and innovation:
“Our brains are neat freaks. When receiving new data, the brain compulsively seeks to place it in context with all the other information it is storing. (Kind of like a giant database.) The brain’s greatest skill is to make connections and see patterns.
Brain grooves are very important. We go to school and get degrees so our grooves will become trenches. Then we spend years on the job to make the trenches even deeper. This is
Deep trench expertise is effective most of the time until we want to think in creative and innovative ways in areas of specialty. Then the brain has trouble breaking out of its well worn and often travelled grooves.”
Creativity is often elusive because the brain is so efficient.
What Kaylie is describing as well-worn grooves is what Edward de Bono calls Vertical Thinking.
He says, “The brain is a wonderful device for allowing incoming information to organize itself into patterns. Once these patterns are formed. . .we use those patterns in the process known
The brain/mind is a self maximizing system, not a machine, but a specific environment that is self-organizing.”
In our everyday life, our Vertical Thinking is at work. When we analyze information, the brain is passive and only sees existing patterns. Vertical Thinking is selective. We select from the things we know. Vertical Thinking will not yield new ideas. We may be overly dependent on Vertical Thinking. It’s safe. It’s familiar.
But creativity, insight and humor, the ingredients of innovation, all involve restructuring of patterns, and this is called Lateral Thinking. Lateral Thinking is generative. It comes from looking at things differently than normal.
We need the preset patterns (like language) so we are able to talk to one another, but we need the lateral, off-the-beaten-path thinking in order to be creative.
Another way to look at it is, we need creativity in order to break free of our Vertical Thinking.
Lest you think we might all go amok, our brain has a way of bringing new ideas into reality. According to de Bono, we can only recognize ideas that have a logical link to our reality, i.e.,
“all valuable creative ideas must be logical in hind sight.”
THE WHOLE BRAIN
There is so much that we don’t yet understand about our amazing brains, but current thinking is that there are two hemispheres of the brain which process information differently. Generally, the left side thinks analytically, one thing at a time and reductively. The right side thinks spatially, all at once and holistically.
The left brain is associated with things like mathematics (numbers), language (words) and logic while the right brain is related to things like imagination, color, rhythm/patterns, spatial awareness and visualization.
This is clearly an over simplification. I’m offering it to make
In some ways we’re only using 3 or 4 of the 7 mental skills we have. Most of our business worlds operate in the areas of numbers, words and logic and some image. But our other natural mental skills of rhythm, color, spatial awareness and visualization/imagination aren’t always allowed in.
We have held these skills at bay because they are associated with things that are perceived to be other than business. Ironically, however, these last cortical skills are required to adjust to change and to be innovative.
INFORMALITY AND HUMOR
Informality + Humor = Creativity
According to de Bono, “When we talk about creativity and innovation, we have to talk about informality and humor. When we talk about humans and being comfortable and feeling they can act naturally, express themselves and be safe, informality and humor come into play. They both access creativity.”
In my mind, informality has a physical component and a mental component. The physical part is about being comfortable in a hospitable space (which I talk about later). The mental part is about feeling invited and safe to be yourself or express yourself.
It seems that once a person is comfortable physically and mentally, humor can come in to play a part. I think we have left humor out of our organizations for years, especially in our meetings, as if it’s not worthy of being part of business.
According to de Bono, humor is the “most significant behavior
of the human brain.”
Hermann Hesse’s more grand expression about humor is: “Humor, perhaps the most inborn and brilliant achievement of the spirit, attains to the impossible and brings every aspect of human existence within the rays of its prism.”
Humor is associated with playfulness. Plato said: “Play is the only true way to learn.”
A definition of humor from the dictionary is: “That quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous.” That is exactly what you need in order to be creative – something entirely different from the ordinary.
In terms of ‘human dynamics’, or people interacting, humor is a great ice breaker. It relaxes people. It helps us access a human space together, which we are all part of. It lightens the load,
so to speak.
In terms of an individual, humor helps take a person out of their groove of tired thinking or being in a rut. It creates surprise and is, therefore, energizing.
Humor helps us to not take ourselves too seriously.
Creativity + Insight = Innovation
The use of imagination to come up with original ideas, plus deep understanding of how this creativity can be put to use, equals innovation.
Give ideas time to come by relaxing your brain. Use your imagination. There are many processes and tools out there that can kick start creativity.
Sometimes we just need to look at a thing backward or turn it on its side or upside down. Put things together that normally don’t go together and see what happens to your imagination. . .
There is a time element to innovation. Not in the sense of how the brain is working, but rather, how we are responding to, or in, today’s world. The speed at which we need to be creative and innovative to keep up is phenomenally fast. It used to take centuries for a new idea to take hold.
I was thinking about this the other day and I thought about the pen. I don’t know when humans first started writing with an implement, probably back in cave man days; anyway, pens, in the form of quills dipped in ink, were used for centuries. Dip the pen in the ink; dip the pen in the ink; dip the pen in the ink; and then, one day, in 1884, Lewis Edson Waterman got a creative idea that turned the whole pen and ink world upside down. He said, “Why don’t we put the ink in the pen?” Wow, what a novel idea, and the fountain pen was born. It was a stroke of creative genius that
has served us to this day.
We no longer have centuries, we have mere days, it seems, to be creative and innovative or our competition will be there first.
CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION IN GROUPS
If you want to be innovative in groups, it’s useful to know what a colleague of mine told me about groups in general. He was speaking about this from a process facilitator’s perspective.
A homogenous group (such as all women of the same age, for example) will get a task done and get it done with the least amount of conflict. Fast process, rapid decision-making, little struggle, BUT relatively uninspiring, flat products or solutions.
The more heterogeneous a group, the more diverse, the more creative the group will be. The group will also have differing values and differing forms of communication they may struggle with. Slower process, slower decision making, relatively high struggle possibility, BUT very creative, leading to innovative products and solutions.
The moral of the story is: The more diverse the group, the more creative and innovative it will be.
In a Dynamic Community, wellness is a way of life. The belief is that a fit organization is a lucrative organization. What health care providers everywhere are asking of patients, we should be asking of our organizations. So, I am borrowing the Wellness Portal, a model from the University of California, Davis. It’s called The 7 Realms of Wellness. It spells out an individual’s responsibility for his or her health. As you can see from the following graphic, I have added a ring around the portal that relates to the organization and its responsibilities in terms of the health and well being of the employees, as I see it.
Here are two definitions of wellness:
Wellness = “A state of complete physical, mental and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – The World Health Organization
Wellness = “An active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.” – National Wellness Institute
Here are the 7 Realms of Wellness with my corresponding organizational roles:
Individual Role: Performing social roles effectively and comfortably and, creating a network of support.
Organization/Leadership Role: Creating environments for inspired collaboration. Creating processes and structures for shared learning and communications.
Individual Role: Maintaining a healthy body and seeking care when needed.
Organization/Leadership Role: Creating a safe, hospitable environment that is nurturing, supportive and responsive to human needs.
Individual Role: Respecting the delicate balance between the environment and ourselves.
Organization/Leadership Role: Fostering a culture that respects and protects the environment.
Individual Role: Developing a set of values that allows you to seek meaning and purpose.
Organization/Leadership Role: Making sure people know the values of the organization and hiring people whose values are aligned with those of the organization.
Individual Role: Understanding your feelings and coping effectively with stress.
Organization/Leadership Role: Supporting a culture of free expression and mutual respect. Being reasonable when it comes to demands on people’s time.
Individual Role: Enjoying your occupational endeavors and appreciating your contributions.
Organization/Leadership Role: Making sure people are happy in their roles and finding opportunities to discover, acknowledge and invest in their unique contributions and good ideas.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON
I’m borrowing a model from Angeles Arrien’s book, Signs of Life: The 5 Universal Shapes and How to Use Them. I am using her symbols and her corresponding words in a simple visual I created as a way of thinking about what constitutes an organization. To me, when all of these elements are working well together, the organization will be healthy. I correlated the shape and language with an aspect of organization (in italics). If you add up the first four shapes, they equal the last shape.
Circle = Whole, Unity, Independence, Individuation
Represents the whole person in the organization
Square = Stability, Solidity, Security, Continuity
Represents the environment, values and culture
Triangle = Goals, Dreams, Revelation, Self-discovery
Represents learning, and visioning, individually and collectively
Plus sign = Relationship, Integration, Synthesis, Balance
Represents the whole group working together in common purpose
Spiral = Change, Growth, Evolution
Represents a healthy life for the individual and the organization
TWO LENSES ON THE USE OF ATTENTION AND ENERGY
In a healthy Dynamic Community, you pay attention to things,
as much as possible, in an appreciative way. Instead of seeing everything as a problem, which is counterproductive,
you like to find what’s already working that can be applied to collective challenges.
Problem solving is not bad; it’s part of what groups do together all the time. But the idea here is to see if first, we can find ways to use what’s already working. It’s not only more expedient and efficient because it doesn’t waste time if not needed, but it also can open new avenues and opportunities that would not be seen if you were looking at something as a problem to fix.
Another way of saying it is: In a Dynamic Community, we like to move from making something go away to bringing something new and/or greater into being. Making something go away is being stuck in time. Inquiring appreciatively and using what already works is moving forward positively, creating new futures as we go.
Problem solving =
Notice what is going wrong, then
find the problem, then
search for causes/deficiencies, then
fix what is broken
Appreciative inquiry =
Notice what is going well and
find what is life giving and
search out creative potentials and
amplify what is working, what is possible.
FROM KNOWING TO LEARNING –
HOW PEOPLE LEARN
The Dynamic Community values learning and knows how people actually learn, so that an enabling environment can be maintained to accommodate and support this view. This is my phrasing of the following information that comes from the Institute for Research on Learning (year unknown):
It was traditionally thought that we learn as an individual. The reality is that the best learning is social
It was thought that formal settings were needed to assure learning, but it turns out that the best learning is done through informal networks.
We, as learners, have been treated as passive recipients, but now we know the best learning is done in active communities of practice and engagement.
It was believed that we learn and then apply that learning to the real work, but it is now clear that we learn best while doing the real work.
It used to be that we believed that we learn from expert teachers and now we believe that, in addition to teachers, we all teach and learn.
It used to be that we learned by getting information and now we know we learn best by having conversation.
It was thought that learning was having the right answers, but we have come to realize that it is more important to ask the ‘right’ questions. (Questions that matter.)
FROM KNOWING TO LEARNING –
We live in a culture where it is important to have the right answers. Our education system focuses on memorizing answers rather than seeking new possibilities. Most of us seem to be uncomfortable with not knowing an answer; however, when you begin to ask questions, instead of having all the answers, something fundamental changes, especially when we ask questions together.
Just that shift of lens, from knowing to being open to learning, completely changes the dynamics of your thinking. If you live only in the known, you never are curious or creative or innovative. It is hard to see any other possibilities. If you live only in the unknown, you can’t ground yourself or apply your ideas or move toward action. So, you need both.
Questions are elegant in that they channel attention or ground a conversation, while they simultaneously open the conversation up. Another way to say this is: Questions are similar to metaphor. They are able to tap into the realm of possibilities and imagination and intuition, while they simultaneously hold a framework for thinking.
Questions help people get into a “beginner’s mind”. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few”, is a quote from Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki.
Questions provide rich soil for cultivating creative ideas.
Questions create an excitement and an anticipation of discovery.
Questions keep us fresh.
HOW WORK REALLY GETS DONE
Through collaborative social systems.
Through networks of conversation.
At the “water cooler”.
Through the “grapevine”.
During people processes.
Horizontally in the hierarchy.
In meetings that are well designed and facilitated to get something done.
By the people closest to the everyday creation of products, services and customer interfaces.
When people say, “Start talking and get to work”.
Informally and formally.
When people feel free to express themselves without reprisal.
When everyone is accepted by everyone else as a potential contributor.
Through exchange of ideas.
Through natural learning processes.
On a cocktail napkin.
THE IDEAL – IN THE FLOW STATE
Years ago, the first time I heard about the concept of being in
a state of mind where everything was working to its upmost potential, it had to do with a baseball pitcher who was “in the zone” when he pitched a perfect game. He could do no wrong. Then, I learned of the term Flow State, which is essentially the same as being in the zone. Over the years, as I have done my best work as a graphic facilitator, I would describe the feeling
I have as being in the flow state.
It’s a wonderful place to be. The more we can get into the flow state, the more productive and satisfying our work is. Research shows when a group is in flow, it is more likely to resolve problems with surprising and creative solutions. Group flow produces innovation.
R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., author of Group Flow: How Teamwork
Can Foster Creativity says, “Group flow produces creative works beyond any of the individual members of the group. When we have expanded awareness of ourselves and our collaborators, together, we create unity of spirit.”
The hallmark of flow is a spontaneous joy, even rapture,
while performing a task. There is a sense of being outside everyday reality.
Paraphrasing Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from his TED Talk entitled “Flow: The Secret to Happiness”, when you are in a flow state, there is a sense of competency and control and a loss of self-consciousness. There is little distinction between self and environment, between stimulus and response or between past, present and future; you get so absorbed in the task that you lose track of time.
In other words, in the flow state, you are “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved.”
For individuals in a group or for the group as a whole to achieve a flow state, there needs to be a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high. If low and matched, then you get apathy.
Personality traits that help enable flow include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reason only, high appetite for growth opportunities.
Sawyer, who I quoted earlier, says there are
10 things involved in being in flow as a group:
There is a compelling vision and a shared mission
There is close listening
The work keeps moving forward
There is complete concentration
People feel in control
There is a blending of egos
There is equal participation among members
There is familiarity
There is good communication
There is a potential for failure
SOME COMMON SENSE FROM NATURE
Again, I’m borrowing Angeles Arrien’s inspirational wisdom
from her open source material. This time, it is about working together for a common purpose. Her commentary is in bold italic. It reminds us that some of our most valuable lessons and solutions come from listening to nature.
NOT SUCH A SILLY GOOSE. . .
As each goose flaps it wings, it creates an uplift for the bird that follows. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one other.
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back in the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each others’ skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents and resources.
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up the speed.
We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the product is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encouraging the heart and core values of others) is the quality of honking we seek.
When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. They launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
When we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
SEEING OURSELVES BEING TOGETHER AS A GROUP
People meet together for a variety of reasons, like making decisions or solving problems or planning or analyzing or creating something new.
For the most part, we come to meetings with our individual perspectives and needs, we go through an agenda, and then, we go off on our own separate ways. We very rarely take the time at the end of a meeting to reflect on how we spent our time together in terms of achieving our outcomes and our process of getting there, i.e., how we behaved together to arrive at those outcomes.
Talking about what we achieved as a group by summarizing our discussion points and agreements will enable us all to be on the same page about what we need to address after a meeting in order to turn our agreements into collective action.
There are a million things we could individually focus on once we leave a meeting, but if we have a common understanding of where we are headed together, like the ‘picture on the front of the puzzle box’, we can see how the individual pieces contribute to the whole and use this as a guide to how we allocate our time and resources to serve the entire enterprise going forward.
If we are in alignment, we will not only work from a smarter perspective, we also will do it in a shorter amount of time with more clarity and less stress and a higher success ratio.
A very significant reason for reflecting on our processes and overall interactions over the course of making decisions together, especially if some of us or most of us will be working together again, is that it affords us a broader perspective of our support system and it allows us to operate on the strength of the group.
When you sense that you are part of something bigger than self and that we are all depending on each other, it creates a bonding among individuals. We automatically communicate better. We achieve results more seamlessly. We learn together so that we don’t bump up against the same obstacles time and again.
Here are two great examples of a group of people seeing themselves being together and how this became the foundation for a lot of the work going forward:
This may be ‘out there’ for some, but hang in there, I think you will get the gist of the message. This is an example of how Music brought together a group of people in an expedient, effective and satisfying way where they watched and felt themselves doing something together. This moment was equal to weeks or even months of team building in the conventional ways.
A few years ago, a consultant friend and I worked with a client in a 3-day off site meeting. The two main purposes of the meeting were to strategically plan for the next few years and to build the team to carry out the plan.
On the 2nd night of the 3-day meeting, we brought in a wide variety of drums and other percussive instruments and sound makers and put them into the middle of the room. We asked each person to choose one to play with. Everyone was more or less in a playful mood.
We all sat down and nobody said anything, deliberately, not to control the energy, but, rather, to let nature take its course.
It’s been my observation that most people can’t stand silence, or silence for very long. Inevitably, someone just tapped lightly on their drum (probably to relieve the tension), and then another person, who must have gotten a sort of permission, lightly tapped on his drum. The next thing you knew, the whole group was creating beautiful sounds together and laughing and smiling in amazement the whole time.
When it finally died down, on its own, they all looked around at each other. It was a profound and moving moment that was theirs alone.
They could see themselves doing something/creating something together. They played off of each other. And not a word had
They had a shared experience that was meaningful, which they could all get back to quickly. The collective experience of drumming then became a metaphor they actually used when they went back to the collaborative workplace.
For some, it takes an act of faith to get so far out of your comfort zone, but why not drum together if drumming together gets you happy people who work well together and bushels full of money? Why not?
ANOTHER COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
Not all, but most people don’t have to get out of their comfort zone for this!
The World Café is a facilitative process that uses the art of Conversation to explore things that are important to people. It is a simple, yet powerful, tool. It is practiced in a number of creative ways all over the world.
People sit at small tables of 4 (no more than 5) people and are asked to talk about a question that is posed that is relevant or significant to those in the café. There is a time limit and when time is called, people get up and move to other tables to form new groups of 4 (or 5). Then they continue the conversation, bringing their perspective from the previous conversation to this conversation, and collective intelligence builds and themes begin to emerge.
The World Café is well worth exploring in more depth. (See: The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations that Matter, by Juanita Brown, David Isaacs and The World Café Community.)
The World Cafe is three things: a facilitative process for having good conversation and cross pollinating ideas; a metaphor for a relaxed, informal hosted environment which produces its own benefits of comfort, camaraderie and connections; and an underpinning theory that has its deep roots in the principles that govern system and scale.
My point here is about literally seeing how you are being together as group members.
When people change places and form new groups and have conversation, they are mimicking real life. This is how work gets done, through networks of conversation.
It also helps you build on others’ ideas. Wisdom just pops out in the form of themes across tables or new questions are brought forth that raise the quality of the conversations.
To complete the circle of a Cafe, when these themes are captured at the end of a series of rounds, in a large format synthesis (graphic capture/harvest), ideas are given form and a collective picture is created. This synthesis can be used later when sharing information with people who weren’t at the café or can serve as a springboard for action planning, using other convergent processes.