A different story….

I’m working off a theory that there is a paradoxical need for slow time to talk in fast-paced organisations. Even as a card-carrying, fully committed member of The Impatient, this Slow Time notion is strengthening through reading Nancy Kline’s Time to Think, David Bohm’s classic On Dialogue, and the beautiful, lyrical i-thou concepts of Martin Buber.

What i notice is this: If you crash diet, you might get leaner for a while, but long-term you’re likely to get fatter. You go for fast food? Fine, it might satisfy you for a bit, but you get hungry and it’s unsatisfying (not to mention heart attack inducing) You send your Leadership team for a 1 day “experience” or a 3 day Programme? The effects will be marvellous, but fleeting.

We know this. What’s going on with our thinking?

How are we in a situation where our Boards and Leadership teams often put no value on taking time to build the relationships and the conversations that would enable decisions to be made quicker, allow meetings to flow with greater ease, or performance conversations to be appreciative and constructive? Where does the rush come from?

Oh.. but we’re really busy….

Busy? Who SETS that story? What does it mean? Surely we already know that thumping along at a fiercesome pace means stuff gets missed. Voices get lost. Common sense becomes a rarity. In that “busy” frame, it becomes permissible to see the role of “The Board Conscience” as someone a little boring or risk-averse – too slow, not compelling enough. The guy in charge of “people” is not perceived to be commercial: ergo unimportant…. Let’s move on….

And then LIBOR happens. Or Nick Buckle is stuttering in front of the Commons Select Committee because no-one knew how to point out the massive big elephant lurching about the middle of G4S, indicating that there was a recruitment issue 3 weeks before the Olympics kicked off…..

Too busy, huh?

At what cost?

This busy-ness is surely costing companies both on the bottom line and in terms of their reputation? Help me out here. Am I missing something?

As a Consultant, I notice a temptation to be swept up in the orthodoxy that says Boards are too busy, too important, too powerful to worry about the details, like…..relationships, or really understanding what’s happening on their shift. I get that it’s hard not to be impressed by status; or sucked into that whole “too busy” trope….I really do….

And I beg to differ. I seek to challenge. I want to offer other ways of thinking and working.

I want to work with dialogue as a direct response to the speed and single-story narrative I perceive around organisations. I’m making a bid for slow time, considered conversations and building real relationships which will hold up to dissent, to disagreement, which will be more respectful of difference-of-opinion. Conversations that can hold debate and allow time to be taken to hear all the voices in the room.

And before anyone throws out notions that I’m being idealistic or overly simplistic, (evoking John Lennon..again) I’m seeking to do this in ways that fit with the needs of an organisation. This work can be done without going to a retreat in the country – it can happen in meeting rooms and requires only the commitment to take time to talk and listen more carefully.

I’m happy to be told I’m wrong, of course, but my view is basic:

We need a different story in organisations.

“Too busy” demonstrably doesn’t work.

Huge thanks today to Phil Wilcox for his Blog post: “I am Humble, Fallible… and I LEAD” and to Rob Jones for his post “The one where honesty is the best policy” – Blogs which, I believe start to show there are other, more compelling stories to be told within organisations.

5 thoughts on “A different story….

  1. I agree with you whole heartedly!! When things are busy we move from one thing to the next making assumptions and guesses about what others are thinking, doing or feeling.

    If anything, at the busiest time what we need to do is have a method, process or approach to checking these assumptions and guesswork and dealing with reality instead!

    This can be done at the time, although it may be quite difficult. The other option is for the individuals or team(s) to agree HOW this will be done before it gets too busy or they make time to do it.

    Either way, ‘too busy’ just does not cut it!!

    • Hi Phil. Even as I wrote this, I was aware of my own patterns – I love to be busy. I get a real kick out of barrelling through work, calling people, sorting stuff, moving things forward – there is an energy and dynamism to that side of work that I would not forsake….

      …and I know I can do this with a more positive impact, because I’ve taken time out to be more aware of the places I’ve messed up in the past. So the times I didn’t wholly check out what the client wanted, because I assumed… I know to slow down now and go “Right. So when you say “Team Build”… tell me what you are thinking?”

      I don’t want to stop the energy and purpose – rapid-fire debate and discussion has it’s place. If the building was on fire, I’m not seeking the Fire Crew to have a slow-time discussion…. but I do want them to take slow- time after the event to extract learning from their actions and for contributions – even annoying ones – to be heard and not dismissed.

      So… it’s that, really.

  2. Well… kinda. For me it’s stories – the stories we tell ourselves. The permissible tales.
    It just gets folk in a fankle ( good Scottish word)\

  3. I work with management students at Napier University. Their assignments – on which they are assessed – take the form of reflective reports. In short we ask them to plan to do something with what they learned in the workshop, do it, thing about what happened and tells us about that. The process of reflection needs time. Many students have spoken about the challenges of finding the time and many have commented on the value of getting into the habit of taking that time. This is based on Kolb’s learning cycle ( and the work of others in the field of learning)…Senior management teams could benefit too!

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