He suggested I start by reading his book; Managers not MBAs, which I did. In the book he says "Thoughtful reflection on natural experience, in the light of conceptual ideas, is the most powerful tool we have for management learning.”
I figured that the team and I don't need to be in a classroom to reflect on our own experiences, we can probably do that just fine in my office. We also don't really need a professor to give us a lecture or anything, we just need their "conceptual ideas" in some sort of format that we could use to run our own learning meetings. As managers we had loads of experience with meetings... we run crisis meetings, planning meetings, status meetings... so why not a learning meeting?
And that is exactly what we did.
I opened up my Microsoft Outlook, found the next available 90 minute time slot and invited my team to a learning meeting. The stated objective was to "learn something new about management to make things better around here". We would do this by "spending some time reflecting on our own experience in light of conceptual ideas". In others words, we would talk about what's going on around here stimulated by the different perspectives, concepts, or frameworks articulated by the professors, and then figure out what little things each of us could do to make things better. And if we thought it was useful then we would do it again in a week or two.
It was completely up to each one of us, individually, to decide if we wanted to follow through on anything or not. I simply said that if you come to these learning meetings, and talk, and talk, and then come up with some simple, practical ideas on how to improve things without doing anything about it, then don't bother showing up next time because you are wasting your time and might as well go to another status meeting or something.
During the weekend prior to each learning meeting, I spent my time madly editing and crafting the stuff Henry and his colleagues provided from their Masters level management courses into a type of workbook we called "the topic". It had the content, agenda and challenging questions and exercises for our learning meetings.
To make a long story short... it worked. This became the space in which our team made many of our most important management decisions. We bonded as a team and began helping one another with loads of pretty personal management stuff.
And other, unexpectedly interesting, things happened.
Within a couple of these sessions we stopped relating to each other like "the head of engineering talking to the head of QA, talking to the head of tech support", and became what we really were, which was "Phil talking to Hakan, talking to Eric and Sam etc..." Just plain human beings doing the best they can to get on with the job of managing, solving problems and making things happen.
Soon, some other managers in the office picked up on this concept and started it with their teams.
And so several years later Henry and I founded a company called CoachingOurselves. It is a concept for practical management learning in a team meeting setting. No facilitators, no trainers and no consultants. The only requirement is a print out of the management topics, and a pen -- no laptops.
There are now thousands of managers around the world using our growing catalogue of over 60 management "topics" specifically written for CoachingOurselves by over 40 different management thinkers such as Henry Mintzberg, Philip Kotler, Marshall Goldsmith, David Ulrich, and Edgar Schein. We support managers by periodically asking for their top 2-3 management issues and suggesting topics that may stimulate productive discussions around their issues. Through these discussions the management teams do whatever they need to do to make things better for themselves, their teams and their organization.
It's still only just starting, but is already being used in 8 different languages by over 50 organizations around the world. With lots of hard work and a bit of luck, through CoachingOurselves we hope to help as many managers around the world as possible do a better job at managing, solving problems and making things happen.
- Coming up with and following through on a change to a filing system in a satellite office to make it easier for people to get what they need,
- Enhancing the telephone script for how an admin worker answers incoming calls resulting in an increase in the number of sales,
- Developing large impact business changes such as coming up with and agreeing to a radical new production process that speeds up a major production cycle by 30%.