Last month a very good friend of mine, who works for a medium sized IT company (200 employees), wrote me a quick message:
– “They are loosing it, and are out of touch”.
He was referring to his bosses and the way they were running the latest managerial meeting in the company.
I felt the frustration in his comment and I wanted to know more, so I asked him, “what happened?”.
– They called all the managers for a meeting. It lasted 4 hours, and the bosses talked 80% of the time, and now I know less then before….
I smiled, but not to my friend frustration, or his managers apparent waste of productive time, but to the memory that I have witnessed it many times.
I have been to unproductive meetings, where the agenda list is longer than a wedding shopping list. Where bosses monologues dominate as if they were lecturing, where other people are detached as if things didn’t matter to them. These meetings often are so unproductive that people feel more confused after, than before they started.
“Monologue kills creativity and innovation from the start”
So I was wondering how much time, creativity, productivity and ultimately profit is being lost on meetings like this, in companies that have cultures where the space is dominated by one or few “that know everything”?.
My friend was on a 4 hour meeting with 15 colleagues, That is 60 managerial hours spent in monologue, confusion and frustration, zero co-creation, low energy….!!!
If his company runs each month one of this meetings, that is 720 hours “pissing in the wind” (English expression meaning that you work against your self). Now imagine if the organization is the size of NHS (National Health Service in UK), with tens of thousands of employees, or the Post office services in many countries…millions of wasted hours.
Thankfully there is a better way.
When we started to design co-creative journeys that liberate creativity, innovation and productivity in people and teams, our smallest form was 120 minutes choreography. This blog by the way is dedicated to the models and practices we use. My book Diamond Leadership is also about it. We combine, several of this practices in our work, such as generative dialogue, inquiry, U process dive and presencing.
So what do we do in those 120 min? and how can you as entrepreneur and/or a leader use the same choreography to shift from unproductive to creative and innovative meetings and engaged staff?
You can literally experiment and practice this, and see how it works for you and your organization.
1) Container building or preparation time (see my extended blog on this).
This is essential time, where you have to identify the key question/s that will drive your “U dive” – meeting. I suggest that you choose one question per dive that will drive your meeting – quest.
In this phase one thing that adds the most value is a 10 min presencing practice, that will relax and ground your people in the circle from the very beginning of the meeting.
We suggest that you do this in a perfect circle and preferably without any big massive tables between you.
Essential here is for leaders to learn how to hold space, without judgement, criticism and fear, so people can trust the process.
2) Individual Inquiry into the question. Split the large group into pairs or triads. Each person needs to inquire into the key question for 5-7 min. The witnesses are only silent listeners, they do not comment on what they hear. Their only responsibility is to repeatedly ask you the same question.
So, for example, if the key question is – How are we improving communication? Your witness is asking you the same question time and time again, for the duration of 5-7 min. If you don’t have answer to it you simply say, I don’t know, ask me again, and so on – Not knowing is very valuable in this process.
3) Journaling, once you all have your share of answering, you go to your pen and papers and in silence, you write as quickly as you can, without censorship all the things that are emerging to you in reaction to what you witness when you were listening, and what you answered, and what you are thinking and feeling now in relation to the key question.
4) Group inquiry. Once you are done with the journaling, take 5-10 minutes to share together in an open inquiry further more with your partners on the same question, and the experience you had.
The first 4 steps are what Otto Scharmer calls co-sensing on the left hand side of the U. Others refer to planting or seeding ideas. You may call it whatever you want it, but this is what is fire-ing your teams collective intelligence.
5) Presencing – “slowing down in order to speed up”
Bring the group in the circle, together again. Stop and stay in silent mode for 3 min. Do nothing but observe what energy, thoughts, ideas, images and feelings are emerging as dominant in you.
6) Generative dialogue.
After the silence, you open up the space for co-creative dialogue, where team members start sharing the most valuable insights from the process. Include every one. Here you use each other to build and propel on the emerging energy and the diversity of the creative tension in the team.
Pay attention to what are the repeating patterns that are coming from several people. Notice what energizes your team, what makes you smile and supports you. Engage in this flow. This is the creative-innovation zone.
Attention: this is not a time for cross argumentation, be careful since that can collapse and bring you back to the old knowing zone.
7) Prototyping – (harvesting or action taking). Once you feel this flowing empowering energy, identify what are the ideas and actions that generate it. At this stage start thinking about concrete strategy and actions steps. Prototype the most interesting ones, and test them as soon as you can. See what are the results, and learn from them.
THAT’S IT, and it works big time. Try and practice it for your self, and share with me what are your results.
Designing creative journeys requires time and experience. Working with not-knowing and creative tension is a challenge in itself.
Please contact for assistance in your team.
RELATED & RECOMMENDED READING
Large group Interventions, Engaging the Whole System for Rapid Change, Barbara Benedict Bunker
Riding the creative rollercoaster – How leaders evoke creativity, productivity and innovation, by Nick Udal, Kogan Page 2014
Humble Inquiry, by Edgar H Schein, Paperback 2013
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together – A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life, by William Isaacs, Doubleday 1999
Theory U – Leading from the Future as It Emerges, C. Otto Scharmer
The Unfolding Now: Realizing Your True Nature through the Practice of Presence, A.H. Almaas