It is conversations that shape our experiences. Creativity and the potential for change within organisations lie with 'shadow conversations' and their tension with the legitimate. - Ralph Stacey (paraphrase)
To get attention for new or different ideas at work, we have set up an approach that now combines 3 building blocks: a monthly alert with summaries and links to interesting material on the internet; a series we call 'Challenging Minds' to get people together and talk about these ideas; and since this year CoachingOurselves (here's their MIX-story). These building blocks, which are very low cost, stand on themselves and can also be combined into learning (or rather: exploring) trajectories on all kinds of subjects.
- Our alert is for everyone who likes to get it. We share the public content of the alerts on internet, at Diigo (an online bookmarking site), so do take a look if you are curious, or take an RSS-feed. Because of tagging and RSS the content can not just be read by everyone with internet access, but can be fed to their own internet- and intranet sites.
- We run Challenging Minds sessions both for open groups--everyone can attend whatever role or level they have--and for closed groups of managers. We now teach others to run their own sessions, either with our content or content of their own.
- CoachingOurselves groups now run in and across several departments, with more to come. Do read their MIX-story as their approach to management development is really wonderful!
Some themes we are passionate about are: leadership / management innovation, trust, engagement & incentives, ethics, complexity, systems thinking (John Seddon, here's his MIX-story, do read it as it may be an eye opener!), risk, and diversity (both in the sense of equal treatment and diversity of thinking).
Our subjects & content cover many of the moonshots formulated by this community.
We address several issues with our approach.
Management paradigms. Our company is quite traditional. Command and control management, incentives, focus on shareholder value, key performance indicators, performance management, mid term plans, surveys to measure employee engagement, a divide between 'talents' and 'the rest', and so on and so forth... Now it doesn't help much if people on the workfloor (such as we) question these approaches at the coffee machine. So my 2 colleagues and I have tried to find other ways to address these issues and get awareness for different ideas & approaches, and to inspire co-operation, dialogue and change along the way.
Learning paradigm. We entered our business school after our former department (on knowledge- and information management) was shut down. From a knowledge management angle, what we found at the business school was a quite traditional approach to learning. On site programmes, classroom based, external faculty as experts, nice binders often tucked away after class is over... We couldn't and still cannot complement these programmes directly, as they are made by experts who keep doing what they do. So we follow another route to improve thinking and the cross-over to work by creating a space to discuss new ideas and new solutions.
Learning audience. Our business school focusses on high level managers and talents. From our perspective, this approach is too limited. There are many curious, intelligent people out there who are neither senior managers nor branded as talents, who use (and want to use) their brains & hands to better help their customers and to make their company a better place. And who have information and experiences that are crucial to do so. So we have tried to invent ways to involve them and connect them with others with like interests and to do something for them.
Cost. This plays a role in two ways. First of all we don't have any budget ourselves. And we will not get budget to bring in lecturers with new or different thoughts. So we invented our alert and Challenging Minds to navigate around this and influence and stir up thinking in an different way, and then added CoachingOurselves (also very flexible and low cost) to our mix. Second: programmes at our business school are not very cheap, a.o. because managers etc. have to be on site and because external faculty asks quite substantial fees and then hire people who ask even more. So we have tried to complement this still commmon approach by working towards flexible, low cost, easily transportable alternatives (easy to reuse by other people, less or no personal involvement of expensive experts, easy to implement at other locations).
We have been developing our approach – which we sometimes jokingly refer to as “The Movement” – since the beginning of 2009. Gradually, without a pre-defined plan, bottom-up.
Our approach now consists of the following elements:
- Research Alert: monthly alert with links to & summaries of interesting video's, podcasts, articles, reports, blogposts etc. Anyone within our organisation can subscribe. The alerts are sent to subscribers per mail and are also published on the intranet. Number of monthly issues published while writing this: 17. Current number of subscribers: 800. We dubbed our alert 'Research Alert' because obviously we do quite some research to get at good, innovating and well researched stuff, but also because it sounds a bit authorative. However we make a point of always including one or two brilliantly funny items. Laughter frees up minds very effectively (ours included). You can take a look at the public content or take an RSS-feed here: http://groups.diigo.com/group/ibs-research-alert.
- Research Alert specials, covering the themes we raise in the Challenging Minds series (see above). The specials are filled with stuff from our research alerts; we update them each month. They are published on the intranet, and are sent to the attendants of the Challenging Minds sessions as post-session follow up, so they can dig into a theme further if they want.
- Challenging Minds series : videos--which we get from internet and often pre-publish in our alert--followed by knowledge cafes. We learned the knowledge cafe format through David Gurteen; our innovation is that we combine it with video (and sometimes a lecture). The Challenging Minds sessions are free to attend for everyone within our company who is willing and able to attend, but since this year we also run them for closed groups such as high level managers and talents from a specific business line as part of their leadership programme. We post the video's on our intranet through a kind of internal YouTube and have published an explanation about the format on our internal wiki, to help people to understand and copy the approach, or tailor it to their own needs and concerns. Number of sessions organized thus far: ca. 26. Current number of participants: ca. 600 total. Themes covered:
- Trust, Engagement & Incentives (videos of John Mackey, Nick Epley, Dan Pink)
- Business Ethics (videos of Dan Ariely, Barry Schwartz)
- Leadership Innovation (videos from the 'Design Flaws in Organisations' series--Gary Hamel, Shoshana Zuboff, Terry Kelly; and of John Chambers of CISCO)
- Systems Thinking (video of John Seddon)
- Complexity and Diversity of Thinking (material of David Snowden, Ralph Stacey; lecturer: Mireille Jansma--we are developing this particular topic into a workshop now, so people can actually practice together at applying complexity thinking to the issues they face)
- Risk (video with Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahneman)
- Diversity (this as a separate series of 5 sessions; Diversity of Thinking is covered in one of them).
Note: The Challenging Minds format (video + knowledge cafe) is utterly simple. We use it to to get people from different work contexts to connect and to reflect together on new thoughts without any stress or 'wanted outcomes'. Also we don't say--nor think--that we learn attendants The Truth; we just play some good & challenging counterpoint to a main tune and let reflection kick in and see what happens. For the attendants this approach is quite new and refreshing however - their responses are great. Part of it, we think, is that they can talk and share and think as adults, also about subjects which are not officially 'theirs' (outside their line of work and beyond the responsibility they carry officially qua role or department). The energy which is created by people talking freely is really amazing and a great joy.
- CoachingOurselves: peer-to-peer management development method by Henry Mintzberg and Phil LeNir (www.coachingourselves.com). Our company is the first company in The Netherlands working with CoachingOurselves. CoachingOurselves is now being used by five departments, both at group level and in the business. We are exploring how to tie in CO learning topics to the themes we cover in our Research Alert and Challenging Minds sessions, into formal management learning programmes, and into events like business managers coming together to discuss topics like setting strategy, building trust etc. Much work remains to be done. However the approach does catch on, as it offers wonderful opportunities to empower and (re)engage managers, and to turn individual learning into real action to improve our organisation. Do check their MIX story here: http://www.managementexchange.com/story/coachingourselves-no-money-no-time-we-need-management-development-really-works.
- Cross over to CoachingOurselves: we get interesting thinkers/practitioners like John Seddon and Dave Snowden directly in touch with CoachingOurselves, to make new learning topics. We hope this will help to further spread good ideas/approaches both within our own company and elsewhere.
- Tying it all together: we have now started to plan a kind of miniature trajectory combining all of the above, to see how that works. We will use content of our alert as pre-work, then have people together and do a Challenging Minds session and then offer a related CoachingOurselves topic to work through, explaining our combined approach along the way. After which the attendants will get additional info related to the subject. This way more people can experience our approach and take it further if they want, into their own business lines and/or companies (we consider to make this an inter-company event).
Note: We pick the topics and content ourselves. We try to choose the name of topics (the names of the categories where we stuff content) so they ring a bell with managers, such as 'leadership' and 'engagement' (rather than management and motivation). We find our content by reading books and checking footnotes, through RSS-feeds of interesting sites, by browsing and following interesting links, by checking TED and EDGE, by searching social bookmarking sites, through tips at Twitter and Facebook, etc. etc. There really is no one size fits all recepy for this, except being curious and liking surprising finds that change your own thinking. And this is just about being changed by reading stuff. Bigger changes and surprises come from Challenging Minds and CoachingOurselves sessions. During these conversations new ideas come up, and actions: ways to combine new with old, what we do and what we aspire to, and how to get there. We organisers do not steer these events. We create a setting where people can connect and converse and new insights may be formed, new things may start.
IBS Research Alert
- Published each month
- We've made a collection of the links and summaries of the public content at Diigo (social bookmarking site): http://groups.diigo.com/group/ibs-research-alert. Do take a look if you want (you can also get an RSS feed on the general content or on specific topics).
- Recurring topics a.o.:
- Engagement & Incentives
- Systems Thinking / Organisational Development
- Management Innovation
- Learning & (Open) Education
- Talent Management
- Content sources: see above.
Challenging Minds - Format of (most) sessions
- Short welcome + explanation of the format + intro of the theme (5 minutes max).
- Show video(s) – duration is between 20 minutes and 1 hour (like with John Seddon’s Culture Change is Free lecture).
- Divide the group into subgroups of ca 5-7 people, taking care that people who don’t know each other (well) sit together. Often we do this by just assigning people numbers."You are in group 1, in group 2, 3..." Instruct people on when they are expected back.
- 45 minutes conversation in sub-groups about the theme. Some guiding questions may be: “What do you think of what X said? Is it pertinent for your work? If so, how? What can you / others do with this to improve work?”
- Get all people together again (this always takes some time as people really enjoy the conversations in the sub-groups and they don’t want to stop!).
- Group conversation with all attendants sitting in a circle. We just ask something like: “Who wants to start?” and wait for a first speaker. In the beginning people have to adjust but after like 5 minutes they stop addressing the ‘facilitator’ and the conversation gets lively. Duration: 30-45 minutes.
- Closure & thank you.
Note: Some Challenging Minds sessions are with real lecturers. We then adapt the format to both speaker and audience. If there is a real professor on stage, he or she calls the shots and the format may turn more into a lecture plus question and answer thing. If the speaker is from our own company it is easier to shape the meeting into a real conversation.
Challenging Minds – additional info
- Beforehand, we do PR for the sessions (send invites, hang up posters, do some promotion on the intranet etc.). People who are interested in a specific subject sign up and attend.
- The total duration of a Challenging Minds session is 2,5 hours. We usually plan the sessions in the afternoon (like 15.30-18.00 hours).
- The number of attendants thus far is between 20 and 45. With over 35 people it may be handier to split the group in two for the conversation at the end of the knowledge café, as the circle gets too big to hear each other well.
- After each session, we send the attendants a special newsletter with links to articles, video’s etc. related to the theme.
- About each theme we make a page with links and additional info on our internal Wikipedia so also people who didn’t attend can watch the videos en read up further.
- The reactions are very, very positive! People love it to step out of their daily work and think & discuss broader themes linked to their own experiences and concerns. The sessions really energize them. Some people drive 200 kilometers to attend!
As to facilitating conversations, connecting people and make them feel their opinions are important and appreciated, we do a great job. As to actual change I am not sure yet.
Much depends on context and accident. For example when we started our alert and our Challenging Minds series and then CoachingOurselves, we could not have predicted that we would get an audience of high level managers. Nor can we now predict what happens while both employees and managers see and talk about our videos and lectures and CoachingOuselves topics.
However, as we reach more people, discussions are starting at places we don't even know. We get calls now from people we don't even know who want advice or just want to come over to compare notes. One of our 'video lecturers' whom we featured in Challenging Minds has been invited to do a half day workshop and to talk with a director.
This is not a hack, nor a 'solution'. We just try and experiment. And we are quite persistent.
Then after a while, get some people from your mailing list together. Show them a video or let them read an article which you think is important. Then talk and see what happens. Do this again and again, on 4-6 subjects you think are important. Invent new ideas along the way and TRY them. Continue with what seems to work, building from there.
Some people who have really inspired us--whether they know so or not:
- David Gurteen(through whose work we learned the knowledge cafe approach)
- Phil LeNir and Henry Mintzberg (who invented CoachingOurselves)
- Dave Snowden, Cynthia Kurtz, Ralh Stacey (for their work on complexity)
- John Seddon (because of his systems thinking approach)
- John MacKey (for his work on trust and the example he offers)
Jurgen Egges, Dick Ringelberg and myself have thought up and make/organise our Research Alert and Challenging Minds series, and are bringing in CoachingOurselves at work.