The Truth About Collaboration

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So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.

Rest

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Rest:
rɛst/ verb
1. cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength.
2. be placed or supported so as to stay in a specified position.
“her elbow was resting on the arm of the sofa”
3. (In Music) an interval of silence of a specified duration.

When do you rest?
How do you rest?
Do you rest?
Ah.

I was saying how much I’m looking forward to the holidays – I’m a lover of this time of year, all things Solstice and the dead dark of the winter – and I began to notice how much I was craving rest. Proper, intentional, rest. 2016, for all it has been scolded for its disruptive, destructive madness, has been a year of more stability for me, personally. A new home. Proper holiday. A sense of family and community. New working partnerships. Interesting new clients and good work with existing ones… and still, I’m OK with it coming to a close.

I’ve had the privilege of working with an eclectic mix of cultures in 2016, from Ballet Companies, to a European Motor Company; from start-up Research outfit to Fire and Financial Services (separate services for the record, just in case that reads badly). I know how I work defies the received wisdom about having a “niche” or a “thing”… which get a little tricky at times as folk try to place me – and the eclectic thing means I cross-pollinate learning solutions and cultural conversations as I go and that means I’m constantly learning…and that means my breadth and depth of subject matter itches are both scratched……..and it means I have to have more conversations about “fit” than I might otherwise need to have if I had a schtick… which is kind of hard work at times… and these are my choices and I like them….

Nevertheless, I’ve been feeling that raggedy end-of-term sense – where the end is close, but there still seems to be a lot of homework and final projects complete – and in my head, I was kind of looking forward to collapsing in front of the telly, bubbles in hand, for some vintage movies and a lot of snoozing… and yet my heart was gently pointing out somehow this wasn’t quite going to cut it, still…

What I’ve realised is, I’m in need of rest. Not oblivion. Not sprawling, vacantly staring, at the TV, flicking endlessly for “Something Good”. Not giving up and lying in a Spa for 2 days, whilst real life patiently waits in the car park to be dealt with… Not locking the doors and switching off the phone, battening down the hatches and running scared from the neighbours.

I need proper rest – nurturing, nourishing, quiet; with a dose of hectic and lifestuff thrown in to add zest and joy. I need time to read a little, cook a lot, exercise a little, walk outdoors a lot, hold my loved ones, reflect on the year a little…

For many of us, the concept of “rest” is an altruistic one, a much-sought holy grail. There is something of the “tomorrow” about it –it will never come.

For me? It needs to be fought for. Rest in the sense I need it doesn’t mean dropping out and ignoring everyone and everything, only to find stuff still looms large later… it means some matters need to be attended to first, in order to carve out the rest space. For me, it means being able to rest within and alongside your life, learning where and how this is possible. It means allowing myself to be looked after (no easy feat for me) and relishing being allow to look after others. It might mean getting up before the rest of the house for a bit for some quiet time… it might mean sleeping in….

So the presents need buying and Christmas lights are up, the kitchen will have “store cupboard” stuff in so we don’t have to run to the supermarket every two minutes. The wine will be stocked. We know roughly who is where on what day… roughly… and space to Be is in there… and we just need to hold it… and that’s sometimes the tricky part.
The house will be cleaned, tidied and cleared, with as little mania as we can muster – clean and tidy enough to be welcoming, not so much that it’s threatening etc. There’s a bad Christmas Playlist forming (including the much beloved 12 Hawaiian Days of Christmas “ Five big fat pigs/four flower leis/ three dried squid/ two coconut & one minor bird in one papaya tree” – I defy you not to giggle) There are loose plans – new Star Wars Movie, a Theatre trip, kids coming and going, walking off the Christmas pudding etc. At points, everyone being together in the same place will feel like a chore, no doubt – and then the trick will be to carve space for everyone to be Elsewhere or Otherwise Occupied for a bit.

And at some point, having spent half an hour reading a book and then stomping up the hill with dog & humans in tow, knowing there is food ready on return and not really minding when we get back, I will feel that slightly melty feeling and know myself to be relaxing.

I think rest these days is hard-fought for. I know it is worth the fight.

To you and yours I wish you all the best for the Season & good rest, when the opportunity comes.

Organisational Structures & Leading through Relationships

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I’m thinking about structures. Organisational structures and restructures and the way we organise ourselves at work – how we plan, decide, action… you know, that configuration-y stuff. Partly, this has been sparked by recent work around matrix stuctures, and partly by reading this article on how to build a self-managed organisation.

Top down, hierarchy? Matrix working? Self-organised systems? Which is best?

It kind of strikes me that they all survive or fail through relationships..and how we get information to each other effectively (aka that illusive catch-all “communication”)

Mostly, I suspect, if a group of folk get together and are unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to have the types of discussions, the information sharing, the good will and trust that generates good outcomes and understanding… it sort of doesn’t matter how the hell you organise them.

I have some sympathy with top-down hierarchical structures, at times. There is an apparent simplicity and obviousness to the process- I tell: you do – which is tidy and neat. Only… it never really works that way. Not properly and consistently…but I still like the story on occasion – the illusion of control and orderly lines…..

Then I remember the start of my leadership journey, back when my top-down authority extended precisely to the lines in my team….on paper. Off paper, my team did what was needed, irrespective (at times) of my decisions. I’d have been annoyed, but often what they ended up doing was better than anything I was coming up with – that’s when I started to let go a bit, listening properly and asking them stuff… Potentially, I grew up a bit.

My reality? Of a role in HR, then L&D/ change? I never had one of those jobs that demanded instant respect… whatever they may be…. If I wanted my authority or opinion to matter beyond my direct reports, I needed to actively build my network, my credibility and my usefulness. Frustrating as this has been, at times, that reality has been.. well, kind of character building.

Now I work in a world where any “leadership” I take or show has to be negotiated through others. There is no top-down hierarchy here…and that comes with its own set of stuff. Credibility and respect have to be earned. Collective models for leading and decision making can be bloody time consuming – building relationships, developing the ability to gather views and hold everyone to a core intent; whilst acknowledging that, actually, at some point there will be a series of corridor conversations, email, DM’s etc that support or detract from that core intent… and working to do whatever is required to make the thing happen anyway, surfacing the gnarly bits where you can either through direct action or subtle means….

If you are in a self organising team, or working in a matrix structure, your capacity to lead and influence is awarded or denied by those around you – a constantly shifting morass of opinions and relationships.. no-one is in charge so everyone is in charge, but the authority to be in charge might well depend on your confidence and capacity to talk a good game….that can feel or stressful and actually a little thankless – where do you get recognition if you lead in this model? To “take the lead” or be awarded it through circumstance of expertise, or opinion or function necessitates  you are slightly “out there” – apart from others…. yet in a collective structure – you can’t be “out there”leading  and also “in here” with everyone… it’s paradoxical and not for the faint hearted. How do we help folk hold that paradox?

Being held up as leader, or actively taking the lead and being “out there” means a risk of being misunderstood or maligned – beyond your immediate team or the folk who really know what you are up to. Some times it’s worse…. Sometimes you are venerated and revered… pedestals are, I suspect, precarious. For me, this is the stuff we need to think about and design learning interventions for – how to work with uncertainty and hold your authority in a unstable operating environment.

So what am I saying? for me, however we structure ourselves to plan, organise or act, it always comes down to the core stuff –, the need to build relationships– to develop and maintain our abilities to listen, to articulate our viewpoint (kindly, if possible), to work to remain open-minded. It’s about striving to develop our maturity, our capacity to work with uncertainty and our commitment to have positive intent to those around us.

This is not about structure, or technology or revolution or disruption.

This is about committing to developing the core skills we already have to relate and committing to designing Learning Interventions in our organisations that deeply support that for the long term.

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet, http://www.bonkersworld.net

Working in Less Obvious Ways.

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I’m over it.

To be honest, I’ve been over it for days – the news, the TV, watching the politics and the games and the claims and the counter claims. The inauthenticity of pre-prepped speechifying. Entire massive hulking gnarly issues conveniently disappeared. The egos. The stubbornness and blindness. The platitudes and clichés. The energy it takes to sense-make in the midst of all of this.

My deep need to hold to a change narrative that involves kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance, creativity and collaboration….My lived experience that true lasting change doesn’t happen without some of these things. How very sorely tested that belief feels right now – like I’m a dreamer, an altruist, a hypothetical tree hugging cloud-starer who doesn’t understand real power and politics.
Only I do…. I just don’t have the appetite to play that game. That mean, selfish, self-serving game.. which at the same time seems necessary…. And if I’m not in the game, how can I ever affect it?

It’s a puzzle.

What I’d say to my clients is: step back. Look after yourself for a while. Stop engaging with the poison around you, it will soak into your being. Go find some anti-venom. Find connection. Love. Kindness. Stuff that sustains you. Find purpose. Get folk round you who you trust and enjoy. Get stronger. Refocus. Return with renewed, different vigor. Work from there.
There is more power and courage in walking a different path, than re-treading the old ones. If you feel that stepping away is woose-ing-out, take heart..it’s only that way if you stay gone – the world needs you here. Stepping away might be just what you need… but come back. Gentler, stonger, heartfilled, joyeous, detoxed.

Physician, heal thyself.

So I’m taking my own advice for a bit. Turning off the telly. Listing to music which lifts or soothes. Seeking out those who nurture and refresh me. Walking the dog. Having silence around me. Cooking good food. Attempting to run a little faster. Putting time in on my travels to see the world through less-tainted eyes.

In a conversation recently, there was an element of: lucky you. That you can do that. In your job. You can just potter about & mull on stuff.
Nope. That’s not how this works. Running a business is rarely a part-time thing, if you want to make an actual living out of it. I’m carving that time. Intentionally. Trying to hold some regard for myself and others around me.
This is the work – my work – in all of the madness.
To look after myself and those around me.
My reach isn’t National.
I hold no power to put money in your pocket
This work could so easily be written off as unimportant….
But it’s not. It’s more vital now, to counter hate-filled, venomous, broken-ly furious narratives that take us down paths of division and separation.

I’m here and I’m part of this…. So I’m working to do the best I can… in less obvious ways, perhaps, but I believe they have power.

image courtesy of Brutallyhonest.org

Stories & Telling & Asking & More

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Yes – I’ll help set up a storytelling zone. In the exploration of the social age, I’ll happily find a place for folk to gather and talk and think and question and share. I’ll make a nook – a place to hang out and meet and mull. Laura will make a Newspaper office right next to it, handing out nips of whisky and chatting over typewriters…..stories created here & captured there…. That works.

Stories? Sure, that’s part of what life and work is about – your story, our story, the story of the organisation; tales of the unexpected and of the known – specific tales that bring hypothesis somewhere more understandable or tangible… the Theory is this: my Reality is that…. Ah.. this is helpful – I can see more clearly now.

If I coach you, we work with your story – your narrative of yourself. How you see yourself and tell yourself to others. How you know yourself. What you allow yourself to do.. or not do… or think… or say… I’ll offer counter narratives.. can we re-write this together? Can this be a different tale?

As the Safari unfolds, I hear metaphors & how useful these can be to work with. How a shared story helps people gather and understand. How the plea for Purpose in organisations is also a plea for a simple narrative – what do we stand for here? Will you stand for that with us?

I hear about working in small streams; river tributaries that might eddy or might flow out to the ocean; I hear of someone quilting – piecing odd fabrics together to create something beautiful and new and original.. the pieces becoming a whole different entity; we hear Social Media sharing not as an act of self-promotion, but as an act of generosity – sharing content and knowledge specifically to generate change… the self-lessness a thing I forget about at times in the midst of broadcasted cultivated messages….

And so much I don’t know about stories – what do we do with messy narratives that don’t follow a proper arc? The archetypes available… the questions you can ask: are we in an organisational tragedy? Comedy? Farce? So much still to learn, to ask, to discover.

Catherine and Selby work with creative voices. Poetry and music bring narratives to life – protest songs and lives spoken into being… lyrical, lilting riffs that are unexpectedly touching, moving and powerful. The words sung or spoken have a effect that cannot easily be expressed….articulated in emotions and sensation – beyond words in many ways… I enjoy the irony.

Later, I leave early, my own fairy tale of being able to push through a flu-like cold thing truly undermined by the very factual story of shivers and temperature, of sand-papered throat and woolly brain-function. As I find myself sitting on the floor of a packed train, feeling terribly sorry for myself and telling my woes on a Slack channel to my beloved friends, Amanda asks: Would you like a story?
And I relax – Yes. Tell me a tale from beyond this train – and she does… and it is beautiful and human and poignant… and then Fi shares her Tale from the Underground… and I’m elsewhere and warmer and more connected all at once and somehow it makes things better.

There is power in stories… and in those who tell them.

——–

Thanks to inspirers/ co creators Geoff Stead, Carol Read, Julian Stodd, Damian Corbett,  Sukh PabialJonathan Anthony  Johanna Wyers, Amy Burvall, Stephanie Morgan  SeaSalt Learning Crew including (but not exclusively) Laura Williams, Valerie De Pauw,  Hannah Moxom, Phillip Kingsbury, Paul Draper, Rich Stannard, David Jarrett & Emily Pykett

to Amanda Arrowsmith & Fiona McBride

seek out #socialAgeSafari

Check out Spoken Artist & Poet Joseph Selby & bluegrass/ folk musician Catherine Burke

Trust the Process (aka Reflections from an Unconference)

 

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Thanks to Simon Heath . Loving your work as always. x

I’m an advocate of the Unconference format. This is my third go at instigating one within the @LnDConnect community and I reckon I’m just about understanding a little of the magic that happens now.

Events like this cannot happen successfully without people creating, thinking & participating… and if you want folk to create, to reflect, to participate it is important to actively seek and carve out space and time to enable this… then get out of the way and let it breathe.

Events like this don’t happen without a facilitation team who are in service to others and to each other; a team who push experiment; who are relentlessly and genuinely curious about what is happening in their chosen field; who seek to learn themselves. In this instance the Team were (in alphabetical order) Ady Howes, Fiona McBride, Kev Wyke, Martin Couzins, Mike Collins & Sarah Storm... and me.

Here are some of my reflections ( others’ are captured at the bottom of the blog)

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It Should Be Different….

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Oh Should.

How you haunt my change practice & my coaching conversations.

You hold a tempting promise of possibilities, marred by a vague whiff of judgement:

I should

We should

It should be…

 

Yup. Quite possibly. But it isn’t. Not right now.

So can we work with that? With what is real and present?

Can we look at the world as you currently experience it?

Can we look at this mythical “culture” that “should” change and spend time here, now, picking through what is, before lurching off to what should be?

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