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Supporting organisations to bridge the gap between strategy and action at moments of change, making sense and shaping conversations with Big Pictures.

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How easy is it to speak up in command and control cultures?

julian burton

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Do you recognise this situation? Have you been in a meeting like this recently where you really thought your boss’s new idea would never work but to say that would risk your career prospects?  Or maybe the relationship didn't feel safe enough for a candid conversation,  or you had a bad experience with a previous manager who didn’t like being challenged? Or even, like many people, you were taught not to question authority.

An alternative view from the other side of this relationship [and that might be a different picture if it was painted from the leader's point of view] might be that you really wanted to test your thinking with one of your team and tried to make it easier for them to speak openly about what they thought, yet you sense they may have just paid lip service to your idea.

This situation may be typical for many people on both sides of the table, and we hear that many organisations have a strong intent to work on this issue and move away from top down cultures towards more collaborative ways of working. Yet recent research by Megan Reitz and John Higgins suggests that most leaders are genuinely blind to the fact of just how difficult it is for others to speak up to them. 

It doesn't help this situation that the behaviours and skills that need to be learnt to develop better relationships and work more collaboratively are still called “soft skills”!  Stephen Covey in his book, The 3rd Alternative, sums this up very well; “the soft stuff is the new hard stuff”.

Growing the relationships that can start to dissolve some of the negative effects of the sort of power relations that get in the way of real collaboration may be the most difficult thing for anyone to learn at work. Yet can organisations afford not to focus on this, as surely it's the key that unlocks successful culture change and agility?

The Picture in the Attic

paul stroud

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Every once in a while there is news of a trusted, successful brand that suddenly lurches into unexpected trouble. More than suffering from misfortune, they are revealed as deeply flawed, and are not what they seemed to be at all. When the internal reality doesn’t match the projected image they are effectively living a double life - one that is ultimately unsustainable.

Is it unreasonable for an organisation to want to project a flattering picture of itself, to instil pride and confidence in it’s staff and customers, while shying away from contemplating its faults and weaknesses, be they systemic or those of individuals?

Imagine if all the challenging, difficult stuff could manifest itself in a ghastly hidden picture instead of being lived, worked-out and resolved – like some fantastic deception in a gothic novel. That could be tempting, especially if problems are being suffered and managed by others and all the easier to disregard. Some may consider things are better left unsaid, to allow them to be managed discreetly and preserve the reputations (and dignity) of those involved.

However, exploring troubling issues openly can establish their true extent throughout the organisation, as well as offering a valuable opportunity to share experiences, correct misconceptions, and learn from each other.

While it may be appealing to avoid the upfront cost and disruption of directly confronting difficulties, how costly will it be in the long run to constantly bend to accommodate them? An informed, strategic response can attempt to share out the burden more fairly, rather than leave problems to be borne by just the individuals directly impacted. That could make for a story with a happier ending for everyone, not just those telling it.

Crushed and squeezed - do you recognise this?

Elinor Rebeiro

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My colleague drew this image the other day after we were discussing some of the challenges employees experience in their day-to-day work environment. Does it resonate?

It makes me consider the fluid nature of the way I work. As a consultant I am struck by the dichotomy or competing forces that come into play when trying to meet the needs of each client and the needs of the people that I work with.

I quite often feel myself getting overwhelmed trying to meet these expectations - my own included (but they definitely sit at the end of the queue). I think there is something so difficult in this because it is easy to lose perspective and no longer be able to see past the thing that is right in front of you.

A lot of what I am talking about here is perceived as well as 'real' pressure, and can be triggered as much by my own work ethic as it can by my clients’ expectations. When I am in this space it feels completely real and completely crushing – mind, body and soul.

So, what stops me saying "Sod it, I’m getting out of here"? Somedays, honestly, I don’t know. I know that I love my work, I know that I also love my daughter and husband who invariably end up as one of those competing forces rather than one of my reasons for being and why it is so important for me to work.  

When I look at this image I keep asking myself 'Who are these little devils?' For me they are every best intention I have, plus an obligation to my colleagues, plus a commitment to an organisation that pays me to be there. This is in part due to a work ethic, and in part due to a standard I expect of myself.

No-one actively chooses to put their head in a vice, but when you are in that vice how easy is it to take your head out again? Are you even aware that the vice is there?

The answer, for me, is to be able to step out and explore what is happening, take some time to be mindful and reflective. The double bind is, of course, that to do that I still need to be aware that something isn’t right in the first place. Perhaps more realistically it is about stopping often to reflect not only when there is a problem, paying attention to the body response and trying to notice when things seem out of sync. And having a colleague you trust enough to share with how you are feeling can make all the difference. 

 

Creating slow spaces for supporting O.D. work

julian burton

Guest blog by Maxine Craig

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What do you need to do your OD work? When we are faced with this question we often jump straight to a list. In this blog post we want to provoke you to think about the space you grant yourself to think, reflect and renew so you can be the best version of yourself within your OD work.

In OD we are often taught to think about the prevailing narratives, the ones taking centre stage, the ones which may be reflecting something important AND we are taught that part of our work is to help reflect back the reality of people’s experiences as they go about their lives. We are hearing two narratives, amongst others.  A narrative about unsustainable workloads, of espoused values and behaviours which are not enacted in the workplace, but paid lip service to in reports and on office walls, of work intensity and a busyness created in part by the amount of 24-7 connection we now all experience in our lives.

And a second narrative spoken in a hushed voice that people crave spaces where they could just stop and breathe.

It was against or because of this backdrop of these two narratives, that a few of us in the field of OD decided to take ourselves away and create a different type of space. This space would be ours to create and manage, it would offer us the time to spend on things that were important to us and it would be a SLOW space.

The term ‘slow’ wasn’t a term we knew, it just sort of arrived and now I am frequently asked what a slow space actually is!

For those of us involved in the enquiry it was a space in which we could think, reflect, review and restore. Such a space is important because it nourishes our soul and for many of us our work is much more than paying the bills it is about our contribution to world, it is the work of our heart. So, with the prevailing narratives in mind, a colleague and I began to dream about going away to a place we could share time together around our work, think together, debate together and we liked the idea of creating an OD salon in the style of our European colleagues.

Very simply we found a retreat house, booked a couple of rooms and invited people to join us via Eventbrite.  We saw ourselves as the hub of a self-organising group, everyone would organise themselves, no one would book rooms on behalf of others, there would not be an agenda. Whoever turned up would come with a warm heart and an open mind. In a roundabout way that is what happened and we also learned a lot!

We learned that even a self-organising group needs co-ordination, someone has to take the first step. Then there is a need to hold the boundary because we found people wanted to know what would we focus on? what would we do? These questions felt like an invitation to step into a leadership role. We learned that if you do not hold tight to the self-organising principle then others will look for a leader to lead. So, one message is beware the need for a leader and if you are a habitual leader you might want to practice some self-control and leave the leadership baton firmly on the floor.

As we talked of our up and coming salon on social media interest pick up in the strangest of manners. People started to ask “would we share our outcomes?”, I was quite clear that my outcome would be my outcome and I wouldn’t be taking the time to share it with anyone! I thought a lot about that, how do you share a full heart, a feeling of connection, and peacefulness deep inside? The social media interest sparked a really interesting realisation, people expected us to produce something because we were gathering. It really reinforced our view that we all need a space where we can talk, share and think without being asked about the return on our investment.

One important point to note is that that everyone was resourcing themselves to participate in the salon. Everyone believed that it was sufficiently important to commit their own time and money to the goals we sought. It might have been different if this had not been the case. 

This was our time, a slow time, away from work but about the work of our heart’s.

Upon arrival deciding what to do with our time was a little strange, most of us were used to agendas, running from one meeting to another, eating whilst working and seldom stopping until the day was done. We gathered on a cold, late winter afternoon in a warm sitting room with coffee and cake and talked about what we might do with the next 24 hours. We shared why we had come to this slow space, what we were seeking, what we were focused on in our practice. This was a heartening experience, hearing of people’s interests, passion and requests to be heard and supported.

Gently and in a bounded way we navigated our way around planning how to use the first part of our time running up to supper. I personally owned my own discomfort at not knowing and not having any agenda. This response had taken me by surprise as from its inception we had planned not to have a plan! However, negotiating the use of time felt like such an important thing to do, working truly collaboratively it was a joy to listen, contribute and share.  These slow conversations, in a physically welcoming space were what we had been longing for. 

I have been asked ‘how important was the physical space?’, I think it was very important. We gathered here, a simple, spiritual, quiet space with a bar! We felt nurtured, the staff cared for us, the food was wholesome, simple and delicious. They cared that we had everything we needed. The bedrooms were simple, welcoming homely spaces, the gardens were inspiring, peaceful. As we closed for the night and made our way to rest we were treated to a spectacular display of stars from one of the least light polluted places in the UK.  I have been asked could you have gone to a nice spa hotel … I personally don’t think so.

As we reengaged at breakfast I believe we were feeling the effect of the slow space, we lingered over food, and gathered to focus on the next 6 hours together. Once again, we collaboratively worked through what it was we wanted to focus on, it was a gentle enquiry. We shared resources, moments of reflection and enjoyed just being together. Our usual routine of evaluation, action planning and next steps fell away. It was liberating to stay until we wanted to finish, to follow our conversations and learn together and to restore our faith in our work, ourselves and each other.

Our process to create a slow space was a simple one:

  • Decide to gather

  • Select a slow venue

  • Put out an invitation to self-organise and attend

  • Gather and work through your feelings of being in a slow space, exploring what it means to be ‘off your grid’ for a while

  • Collaboratively debate and agree what it is you want to focus on the most (we learned that there will be far more than you could ever get through)

  • Hold back your usual patterns of outcomes, outputs and action plans

  • Notice your reactions to the slow space, it’s really important data!

I have been asked a number of questions after our gathering, which I will not repeat here, maybe they are for another posting. But the most important question “what was the best thing that happened at the Salon”

My response WE LISTENED TO EACH OTHER and how often does that happen each week?

Maxine Craig

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What can we do together that we can't do alone?

julian burton

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What can we do together that we can't do alone? Rethinking leadership and self-development through the lens of relationships

Sadler Heath Workshop, London 9am-1pm 16th March 2018

Julian Burton and Eli Rebeiro, Delta7 Change Ltd.

“Relating with another person is one of the most powerful crucibles for our growth and awakening, giving us the opportunity to learn to become more aware and able to see ourselves more clearly, to love more deeply, to communicate and show ourselves transparently as we grow trust” (Malcolm Stern).

We believe that the quality of interpersonal relationships at work is central to the personal learning, wellbeing, performance and success of every organisation. In this workshop we want to do two things. Firstly, to set the scene by sharing some leadership research that is helping us think about the benefits of more relational styles of leadership and learning. Then we want to explore developmental themes that each of us is finding on the edges of our learning and look at how the quality of our relationships could positively influence our capacity to learn and grow.

As O.D. practitioners we find many leaders are experiencing more complexity and uncertainty in their role leading change. Some we talk to feel stuck, overworked and exhausted. We often hear that clients want to move away from command and control and move towards more collaborative ways of working. The focus of culture change seems to becoming more personal; there is a requirement for leaders to role model stepping into new, more collaborative ways of being. For many of us this may involve some degree of personal growth and for others, a significant transformation.

There seems to be a growing need for more relational ways of leading and managing. The dominant view of management is that work is done transactionally by individuals (Hartling, L. and Sparks, E., 2008); yet the collaborative, interactive nature of organising and coordinating mutually interdependent tasks and roles means that effective working relationships are what gets things done (Fletcher 2001). We are not machines, we are human beings with needs and feelings. We are not individuals, we are all connected, we need each other and our relationships are what matter most in life. Our lives are a tapestry woven from the fabric of our relationships. This is why we believe that organisations can’t afford not to focus on building relationships as a central theme in leadership development and culture change work.

In this workshop we will engage in some experiential exercises to explore the different ways we can relate to each other at work; and discuss how that can illuminate the direction that leadership development might need to take in order to more fully support organisations to thrive.

Just published - a chapter on Visual Dialogue in the Handbook of Research Methods in Complexity Science

paul stroud

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We are very pleased to announce the publication of The Handbook of Research Methods in Complexity Science, featuring a chapter by our colleagues Julian Burton and Sam Mockett:

'The art of complexity: using visual artefacts and dialogue to bridge the gap between strategic plans and local actions in organisations'.

Abstract

'This chapter looks at the use of visual representations of organisational narrative in combination with facilitated dialogue (’Visual Dialogue’) as a Complexity-inspired tool for culture change and organisational development. The Visual Dialogue change process was created by change consultancy Delta7 fourteen years ago and in that time has been successfully implemented in over 100 large organisations. The process creates spaces for employees and leaders to come together to make sense of what is happening, what needs to change, and what actions are required. It helps people connect strategy to action, learn about each other’s roles and take ownership of the parts each has to play in successful implementation. At the operational level, the process helps shift the way people talk about change and, as a result, enables the change process to become more meaningful, engaging and effective. The process creates the conditions from which learning, innovation and better relationships can emerge.'

  Command and control  vs . self-organisation

We will describe some of the cultural challenges of turning strategy into action that many organisations are currently facing, particularly in the context of the relationship and status gap between leaders and employees, and how difficult it can be to develop a realistic strategy without involving the people responsible for delivering it. We will also show how we have used the Visual Dialogue process as an Organisational Development intervention to address some of the key aspects of these challenges. As the process has evolved over the years we have learned that its principal impact lies in improving the quality of conversations about change between leaders and front line employees, working to create enabling environments that foster mutual sense-making, rich connection and creativity. Finally, we will describe the component parts of Visual Dialogue and how each contributes to creating such enabling environments and supporting emergent change.'

Further details can be found at the publisher's site here.